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Content Groups Link Copyright Infringement to Net Neutrality Rules

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December 8, 2009 - The Songwriters Guild of America is the latest intellectual property-focused group weighing into the debate about whether the government should take steps to regulate internet access to support so-called Net neutrality principles. The group claims that the rules, which have been proposed by the Federal Communications Commission, would create a legal safe harbor for copyright invasion.

“While these rules require that all lawful uses be treated “in a non-discriminatory manner,” they ignore whether or not the usage is unlawful. The result is the property created and owned by songwriters like me is discriminated against,” songwriter Phil Galdston said in a statement.

The guild said the rules would “restrain Internet service providers from fighting illegal file sharing on their networks.”

Songwriter Gordon Chambers said 70 percent of the volume of traffic on broadband networks is peer to peer file sharing, and is generated by 5 percent of network users. Permitting a “small percentage of looters to control a majority of a network’s bandwidth for the purpose of theft, is unacceptable, let alone the proper subject for permanent protection,” he said.

The songwriters and the president of the Songwriters Guild of America recently testified before the New York City Council against a resolution that would express support for the FCC concept of Net neutrality.

The Songwriters Guild of America is not the only group representing those with an interest in protecting intellectual property that has voiced opposition against the net neutrality or open internet movement, which has been supported by the Obama Administration.

The Copyright Alliance said in September 2009 testimony (PDF) that “government promotion of broadband deployment must encourage meaningful distinctions between lawful and unlawful traffic.”

The group said it supported FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski when he said, “It is vital that illegal conduct be curtailed on the Internet. I do not interpret the goals of net neutrality as preventing network operators from taking reasonable steps to block unlawful content.”

In March of 2008 Motion Picture Association of America Chairman and CEO Dan Glickman said new tools are enabling intellectual property holders to work with internet service providers to prevent illegal activity but net neutrality efforts threaten this progress.

“It’s a clever name,” said Glickman, referring to Net neutrality. “But at the end of the day, there’s nothing neutral about this for our customers or for our ability to make great movies—blockbuster first-run films—in the future.

“If Washington had truth in labeling, we’d call this proposal by another name: Government regulation of the Internet. Government regulation of the Internet would impede our ability to respond to consumers in innovative ways, and it would impair the ability of broadband providers to address the serious and rampant piracy problems occurring over their networks today,” said Glickman.

Citizens Against Government Waste has also said Net neutrality would weaken intellectual property protections. “If an Internet service provider is required to allow all traffic to flow, that will include the illegal uploading and downloading of music, movies, books or any other protected intellectual property,” the group said in 2008.

Recording Industry Association of America CEO Mitch Bainwol said in testimony last year on proposed Net neutrality legislation that he would encourage “Internet service providers to work with the content community to adopt effective marketplace solutions to digital copyright theft -- the root cause of any network congestion -- but added that if voluntary agreements could not be reached, government action may be necessary.”

Editor’s Note: Broadband Census News is planning to hold a special event, “Net Neutrality, Copyright Protection, and the National Broadband Plan Town Hall Meeting,” on January 19, 2010, from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. (program from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.), at Clyde’s of Gallery Place. To register for the event, which includes breakfast from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. To register, click here.

Winter covered technology policy issues for five-and-a-half years as a reporter for the National Journal Group. She has worked for USA Today, the Washington Times, the Magazine Group, the State Department’s International Visitor’s Program, and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. She also taught English at a university in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.


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