I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do) on Music Industry Attack

Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Etsy, YouTube and Medium. If you post on any of these platforms, you are a creator. If you spend any time on these platforms, you are consuming the creative content of other creators. People are using these platforms as an important medium to express themselves and create community — not just limiting themselves to traditional forms of entertainment, such as watching a Hollywood-produced movie or listening to a Top 40 song.

On June 20, we hosted a panel on Capitol Hill to explore how this new creative economy is working and how copyright interacts with new creators and the platforms that enable this content to be shared. Attendees heard from panelists who represented both the new creator perspective and the online platforms who host them. The panelists addressed a wide variety of copyright issues, but one of the leading points of discussion was a specific part of the law that has enabled this creative and economic revolution: Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Section 512 of the DMCA is a gold standard for balanced copyright law, which reflects a balance between the need to allow online distribution and consumption of legitimate content while limiting distribution of copyright infringing materials. By providing a safe harbor to online platforms that comply with Section 512’s procedures, it has become a cornerstone enabler of the Internet economy, which is currently valued at more than $8 trillion each year.

Early in the event, Katie Oyama from Google shared a powerful video about how YouTube helped to save the economy of a struggling small town, Hamilton, Missouri, and turned it into the quilting capital of the world. All this because of one woman who started a quilting tutorial channel on YouTube, which led to a quilting store, which led to more quilting stores, which led to Missouri tourism, and so-on.

However, as we learned yesterday, Section 512 and the internet are not just important economic drivers and job creators. They have also played an important role in creating outlets for expression and communities for people who have otherwise felt unheard.

“At first the Internet was just for fun,” commented YouTube channel personality Becky “Boop” Prince at the panel. “I had no idea my videos would make an impact on people.” That impact was reflected by Becky in emails and messages from fans who enjoyed her gaming videos and the community she created around them. They helped one fan get through a tough time in their life, one they may not have been able to get through without the community Becky created.

As Legal Chair at Organization for Transformative Works, Betsy Rosenblatt works to protect the interests of fanworks and the fan community. She noted the importance that the fan community plays as a home to a large number of traditionally-underserved demographics, including women, the disabled, LGBT and people of color. Many fans view their online communities as an empowering venue where they can communicate with each other and share their ideas, creativity and passion. She told a truly heartwarming story of a fan community surrounding disabled superhero fan fiction and the empowering role it has played for wheelchair-using people who were able to connect with each other by writing and reading fanworks about wheelchair-using superheroes. They would not have been able to connect without the fanworks community and the online platforms enabling their distribution.

These economic and societal benefits stand in direct contrast to the letter organized by successful music mogul Irving Azoff, signed by a “who’s who” of very successful musicians over the last 50 years. Ironically, some of the musicians who signed the letter were on the path to obscurity until the Internet and music streaming services revived their careers and introduced them to the next generation. Recently, SiriusXM re-launched a Yacht Rock channel featuring many of the letter’s signers, something that would have been unthinkable just ten years ago if not for the success of the Yacht Rock webseries and the influence it has had on younger tastes. Even letter signer John Oates credited the webseries with the revival of his career and introducing the music to a younger generation — a webseries that could never have happened without the very legal provisions Oates is criticizing. He should be careful what he asks for.

Over the past two decades innovations that were once viewed as disruptive technologies are now household names. This has been good for entrepreneurs, artists, companies and individual creators at all levels. The change this progress has driven continues to test common and accepted ways of doing things, but it is that very challenge to see what is possible that leads to the next transformative innovation. The music industry can’t be allowed to hold the rest of us back simply because the change that is happening is testing their traditional way of doing things.

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