The Stop Online Piracy Act: The Owner of San Francisco's Burning House Records Explains His Support

Categories: Q&A
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You've probably heard some rumblings about the Stop Online Piracy Act recently. And in all likelihood -- especially if you watch major news channels like CNN -- it's probably all sounded pretty bad and pretty scary. Casey Shafer owns and runs Burning House Records -- an independent, San Francisco-based record label -- and he kindly offered to explain his perspective on what the bill's really about and why he thinks music fans should support it.

Casey! What does it all mean?
The Stop Online Piracy Act went to the House on Nov. 16. In short, what it does is that it allows the government to block the domain names of rogue sites that are dedicated to piracy -- sites like Pirate Bay. What it would also do is force companies like PayPal, Visa, and Mastercard to prevent money from changing hands.

Money? Are piracy sites charging people now?
No, but these sites make millions of dollars a year in advertising. If it was sharing music for the sake of sharing music, I might have a different opinion on this subject. It's a huge business -- there's a lot of money changing hands for music, there's a lot of money being made from music, but none of it is going to the artist or the copyright holders, it's all going to these offshore sites.

Explain why these piracy sites have to be offshore.
Sites like YouTube and Soundcloud already do a pretty good job of policing copyright violations. For instance, the other day, I was trying to upload one of my artist's songs to Soundcloud and I kept getting a message saying that I couldn't because it was copyrighted material. I had to prove to them that I'm the one that owns the copyright. So the sites that are here in the States do a good job of policing themselves -- it's not perfect, but I think it works.
These rogue sites get around that stuff by being overseas, where our U.S. laws can't reach them. All we can do is ask them nicely to take down the copyrighted material. They make a lot of money, and tech companies -- like Google, Yahoo, any search engine selling advertising basically -- make a lot of money, too. Which is why those companies oppose this bill.

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Who is in favor of it?
Basically the entire entertainment industry is behind it. The RIAA, the US Chamber of Commerce, [and] the Motion Picture Association are all for this bill. Traditionally, the record industry has been viewed as the bad guy forever. But this generation, flat out, really doesn't pay for music, and they've become accustomed to that really over the last 10 years. And they think music should be free. People don't even see it as stealing anymore. Now the government is telling them they can't do that anymore -- of course people don't like that, but I haven't heard a decent argument against it. All I hear is hyperbole.

I saw a thing on the news that claimed that if this bill passes, it would effectively stop anyone from putting YouTube videos anywhere else online. Is that true?
No. As I said, every argument that I've heard against this is completely hyperbolic and you've just given an example of that. I keep hearing people saying, for example, that if an 8-year-old girl is filmed singing a Rihanna song and her parents put that on YouTube, they can get sued or shut down. That is not who the bill is targeting. No one is going to care about that stuff even if it gets 20 million views. The only time that would be an issue is if the parents started selling advertising on that video. If there's money being generated then of course they should have to pay the copyright holder. If there's no money being made, it's not an issue. If you read the bill, that is absolutely not who is being targeted.

Also, in terms of regular music videos, most of the videos that you're seeing on YouTube are uploaded by the artist or the record company. They've already sold advertising on that video most of the time and if they didn't want you to use it, they would've already disabled the embed code.

Why do you think the bill is such a good idea?
If you look at the last 10 years, it's not just the music industry that has suffered monetarily -- the consumers have too. Concert tickets and T-shirt prices have doubled to make up for the loss in record sales. In addition, creatively-speaking, this generation is the first one that hasn't had a generation-defining band. Where is this generation's Nirvana? Well, it's out there somewhere -- we just don't know about it because labels, as a direct result of illegal downloading, can no longer afford to take chances. And they can't afford to allow bands to grow and develop over time. If Radiohead had been signed today, they'd have been dropped as soon as their debut, Pablo Honey, didn't sell well enough. Think of what we'd have missed -- there would be no O.K. Computer or In Rainbows. It used to be that the big pop artists would sell 10 million records, which allowed the labels to take chances on things a little more alternative, but even the biggest pop artists just don't sell that very often now.
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Adam Morgan
Adam Morgan

The owner of San Francisco's Burning House Records is naive about government power with legislation that seems to have good intentions at face value.

"I keep hearing people saying, for example, that if an 8-year-old girl is filmed singing a Rihanna song and her parents put that on YouTube, they can get sued or shut down. That is not who the bill is targeting. No one is going to care about that stuff even if it gets 20 million views."

This kind of stuff is already happening so it's not "hyperbolic".

Matthew1987
Matthew1987

These arguments are fundamentally wrong.

"If it was sharing music for the sake of sharing music, I might have a different opinion on this subject. It's a huge business -- there's a lot of money changing hands for music, there's a lot of money being made from music, but none of it is going to the artist or the copyright holders, it's all going to these offshore sites."

Copyright does not exist for the sake of copyright holders.  Here is a quote from the United States Constitution:

"[Congress shall have the power] to promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

The sole purpose of copyright is to promote the progress of science and art, for the benefit of the public.  Benefits for copyright owners are just a means toward that.

"Basically the entire entertainment industry is behind it. The RIAA, the US Chamber of Commerce, [and] the Motion Picture Association are all for this bill."

That's right.  The entertainment industry.

Who else?  Is this in the public interest?

"But this generation, flat out, really doesn't pay for music, and they've become accustomed to that really over the last 10 years. And they think music should be free."

If they don't want to pay for music, that's their choice.  If they think that music should be free, there's nothing wrong with that.

If it's not profitable for you to create music, don't create it.

"People don't even see it as stealing anymore."

I hate to break this to you, but it's NOT stealing.

Stealing is when someone takes something that someone else owns without their permission.

But once someone has released something to the public, they no longer own it.  Your right to ownership does NOT cover giving copies to others.

"No. As I said, every argument that I've heard against this is completely hyperbolic and you've just given an example of that."

Here's an example of an argument against this that is true:

This bill, and the DMCA, are unconstitutional for a simple reason:

Under the US Constitution, copyright law must be for the sole purpose of promoting the progress of art and/or science.

That is not the purpose of these laws.

"Traditionally, the record industry has been viewed as the bad guy forever."

And with good reason.  The MPAA and RIAA have, for a long time, been fighting to take away our freedom.  They have already succeeded with the DMCA and some other laws, and now they are continuing with this.

Matthew1987
Matthew1987

These arguments are fundamentally wrong.

"If it was sharing music for the sake of sharing music, I might have a different opinion on this subject. It's a huge business -- there's a lot of money changing hands for music, there's a lot of money being made from music, but none of it is going to the artist or the copyright holders, it's all going to these offshore sites."

Copyright does not exist for the sake of copyright holders.  Here is a quote from the United States Constitution:

"[Congress shall have the power] to promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

The sole purpose of copyright is to promote the progress of science and art, for the benefit of the public.  Benefits for copyright owners are just a means toward that.

"Basically the entire entertainment industry is behind it. The RIAA, the US Chamber of Commerce, [and] the Motion Picture Association are all for this bill."

That's right.  The entertainment industry.

Who else?  Is this in the public interest?

"But this generation, flat out, really doesn't pay for music, and they've become accustomed to that really over the last 10 years. And they think music should be free."

If they don't want to pay for music, that's their choice.  If they think that music should be free, there's nothing wrong with that.

If it's not profitable for you to create music, don't create it.

"People don't even see it as stealing anymore."

I hate to break this to you, but it's NOT stealing.

Stealing is when someone takes something that someone else owns without their permission.

But once someone has released something to the public, they no longer own it.  Your right to ownership does NOT cover giving copies to others.

"No. As I said, every argument that I've heard against this is completely hyperbolic and you've just given an example of that."

Here's an example of an argument against this that is true:

This bill, and the DMCA, are unconstitutional for a simple reason:

Under the US Constitution, copyright law must be for the sole purpose of promoting the progress of art and/or science.

That is not the purpose of these laws.

"Traditionally, the record industry has been viewed as the bad guy forever."

And with good reason.  The MPAA and RIAA have, for a long time, been fighting to take away our freedom.  They have already succeeded with the DMCA and some other laws, and now they are continuing with this.

Here's an article that everyone should read:http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/...

Invalid Prince
Invalid Prince

Honestly, if you consider companies like Yahoo, Google, Youtube, Facebook, Myspace, Apple, Microsoft, etc. entertainment, many companies are against this act. I have read the entire act and I can understand the reasoning behind it and attempting to prevent piracy online. But it also attempts to cover censorship online, in a way that it could truly change the internet that you and I know today. That is why many sites "black barred" their logos, not for the piracy part. If congress decides to rewrite this act and change its focus primarily to piracy and not censorship, I believe it would not receive nearly as much publicity and many companies would be for the act.

Andy1987
Andy1987

Censorship in what way exactly?  Im actually curious.  Like, specifically what is an example?

Daniel
Daniel

Wikileaks falls into that category. The American government would have every right to block access to it.

"Especially in the case of WikiLeaks, which has posted internal documents not only from governments but also copyrighted documents from U.S. companies and has threatened to post more, it's hard to see how it would not qualify for blacklisting. "

http://news.cnet.com/8301-3192... 

Matthew1987
Matthew1987

This bill would introduce government censorship of the Internet in the US.  It would allow the government to block access to any website that happens to host unauthorized copyrighted material.

Matthew1987
Matthew1987

First of all, that could result in any of the file or video sharing sites on the Internet (for example, RapidShare, or YouTube) getting shut down, simply because it happens to host unauthorized copyrighted material.

Second, the government is not supposed to censor the Internet.  That is a violation of free speech.  Just because something is illegal doesn't mean that every possible action should be taken to prevent it.

Third, copyright does not exist for the sake of copyright owners.  Here is a very interesting article that everyone should read (replace all 3 instances of "X" in the URL with "."):

wwwXgnuXorg/philosophy/misinterpreting-copyrightXhtml

Andy1987
Andy1987

and what is wrong with that?  Why should sites be able to host unauthorized material?  Why shouldn't tech companies have to share in the cost of policing it instead of it being policed by entertainment companies.  Tech companies are the enablers and also make enormous amounts of money indirectly from allowing the activity to happen. 

BitterHappiness
BitterHappiness

Like if you decide to host a blog or site sympathetic to radical Islamic groups such as al Qaida / in support of terrorism, such domains can be blocked, or if you hosted the blog on Wordpress.com or something, Wordpress can be forced to censor the content of their blogs.

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