During today’s proceedings, Mary Wilson of the Supremes sang "Stop in the Name of Love" during her presentation, imploring lawmakers to protect her
musical legacy.


Lawmakers Jump Into Digital Stream With CA hearings, Nat’l Legislation Efforts
Political players are getting into position for a series of tussles over piracy, privacy, downloading and digital destiny. You might wanna get yourself a venti cap with an extra shot before checking out the following.

Just when we were despairing that there’d never be another set of hearings about music piracy, California Assemblywoman Rebecca Cohn (D-Saratoga) answered our prayers. Cohn, who heads the State Assembly Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism, and Internet Media, presided over an informational hearing today, gathering testimony from artists, songwriters, retailers, RIAA peeps, technology geeks and others on the impact of unauthorized downloading and copying of music.

During today’s proceedings, Mary Wilson of the Supremes sang "Stop in the Name of Love" during her presentation, imploring lawmakers to protect her musical legacy. Boy-band 3rd Storee also lent a little vocal-harmony flourish to their testimony. Two songwriter/producers, Motown legend Lamont Dozier and hitmaker Glen Ballard, also testified.

Fortunately, RIAA EVP anti-piracy Frank Creighton, UMG's recently appointed anti-piracy SVP David BenjaminFullAudio chief Chris Gladwin, Delicious Records owner Robert Johnson, Los Angeles Deputy D.A. Lawrence C. Morrison and others resisted the urge to break into song.

Nonetheless, during a day of testimonials—often garnished with supplementary multimedia—legislators got an earful about the damage done by piracy. Cohn, Vice-Chair Dave Cox and fellow committee members Anthony Pescetti and Gloria Negrete McLeod reportedly asked probing questions of the witnesses.

In written remarks submitted to the committee and later issued to the public, RIAA President Cary Sherman asserted that "the one-two punch of physical and digital piracy is threatening the livelihood of the music industry. The music business is a jobs-producing economic engine here in California, and we need the help of the legislature and others to help stamp out the worst examples of piracy," he added.

"Within less than an hour from this building," Sherman noted, "a flea market that is home to rampant physical goods piracy continues to operate with impunity. Yesterday, we took the step of filing a copyright infringement lawsuit against the owner and operator of the Marysville Flea Market."

But Sherman acknowledged that anti-piracy activists needed to work harder to get their message across when it came to digital downloading. "We must start by calling unauthorized ‘file sharing’ what it is: illegal," he insisted. "Shorn of any self-serving pretenses of defense, "sharing" thousands of files of copyrighted works without the permission of the creator is against the law. Too many people do not realize that, and we need to do a better job of educating the public about the law and the impact of unauthorized file sharing."

He then made reference to the RIAA-coordinated program to get artists to speak out against online piracy (see story, 9/26).

But today’s festivities were only one gorgeous explosion of light in a larger pyrotechnic display. The Hollywood Reporter notes that State Senator Kevin Murray (D-Culver City), who has spearheaded discussions of artists rights and label accounting, plans to include anti-piracy efforts in a gang of submitted legislation next year. And further legislative campaigns are underway on the national scene.

Y’see, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) today announced his Digital Media Consumers’ Rights Act, which, he declared, "will reaffirm and reinforce the Fair Use doctrine in this digital era." This includes the making of copies for personal use. Blaming 1998's Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for "tilting the balance" too heavily toward copyright owners, Boucher further insisted that "Fair Use helps to make our First Amendment rights real: In its absence, we could not engage in critical political or artistic commentary without fear of copyright liability."

Some folks who provide Internet access, make CD-writing drives and just plain ol’ think copying is fun are lining up behind him. Many media companies, meanwhile, could be stymied in the production of CDs, DVDs and other artifacts equipped with anti-copying technology, should Boucher’s efforts come to fruition.

One of Boucher’s backers, Verizon, is currently under legal siege by record labels; the biz wants Verizon to reveal the identity of a broadband subscriber accused of large-scale uploading of unauthorized music files. Verizon contends that it must protect the user’s privacy, and that a win for the labels could be disastrous for all Internet users.

There’s also much brouhaha over a bill authored by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Ca.), which, like Boucher's, emphasizes "fair use" copying but also goes to bat for extending "first-sale" rights to digital content. This would mean consumers could sell digital media in the same way they are allowed to sell physical CDs, videos and books.

Like Cohn, Lofgren, a member of both the House Judiciary Committee and the Intellectual Property Subcommittee, is based in Silicon Valley. That the two politicos have taken such differing stances on new media and copyright underscores the era’s shifting power balance—technology and media companies are lobbying fiercely on these points—and gives an inkling of struggles to come.

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