Awkward Answers to the Songwriter’s Guild

by Devanshu Mehta

The “Songwriters Guild”: President Rick Carnes recently wrote to the EFF, seemingly in response to their “Frequently Awkward Questions for for the Entertainment Industry”:

Rick Carnes has a point- and for the most part I agree with him. The trouble is that for the most part, the EFF agrees with him too! It is unfortunate that his frustration is directed at the EFF. If EFF upholds free speech and someone slanders you, do you fault the EFF for allowing slander or do you go after the person who you believe has wronged you? Fred von Lohmann of the EFF has “posted a response”: which touches on the issues at hand without directly answering the questions. While Fred may not want to get in to an internet brawl over semantics, I have no such qualms.

In any case, I am not against a lot of what Rick Carnes has written.

Carnes’ questions are titled (the typo is his): Aways Awkward questions for the EFF

And here are my responses. I do not claim to speak for the EFF- in fact, in some cases, my opinions may not coincide with theirs. I will answer these as though they were addressed to me. Also- *I am not a lawyer*, never claimed to be one and I may not know what I am talking about. But this is what I believe.

  1. When will EFF begin to understand that behind every song there is a songwriter who deserves to get paid?
    I don’t think the right of a songwriter to be compensated is in dispute. I also think that mass downloading without any payment to the artist is horrible. The problem is that the current RIAA tactics are, in fact, making the issue worse. If the current status quo cannot stand and the RIAA DRM+lawsuits+proprietary digital formats game is driving more people to illegal downloads, a solution has to be worked out. And this solution will have to include songwriters getting paid.
  2. Since when did ‘Fair Use’ include world wide distribution of copyrighted material without the permission of the songwriter?
    It does not. Mass copying and distribution are not fair use. The issue is that the reaction to piracy from the music and film industry has been so extreme that historically accepted forms of fair use- such as school reports, VHS copies, backups, personal mixes/remixes- are all becoming impossible with digital media. These are legal forms of fair use that users are being locked out of. Piracy is still wrong- but the reaction seems to be extreme. Technologies that survive will have to embrace the change, not try to control it.
  3. Why should the iPod cost 400 dollars but the twenty thousand songs it contains be worthless?
    They are not- not one song on my iPod is worthless and I have paid for every one of them that required payment for use. Not for one second would I want an artist who had anything to do with a single song in my music collection to ever go unrecognized.
  4. How could the RIAA sue 20,000 ‘innocent’ people and prevail in virtually every lawsuit?
    Funny that word- prevail. It does not claim that the RIAA actually won every one of those law suits; it only means that the ‘innocent people’ paid up. It is not clear if every one of those lawsuits would have held up in the court of law.
  5. Is massive, unchecked theft of intellectual property the “Electronic Frontier” that your organization represents?
    Theft? Are you missing some songs and money that you had? You still have all of them in your possession, right? Good- then that is settled. If you have not been deprived of any objects and cannot demonstrate that you have been deprived of guaranteed potential income, what has been stolen?
  6. Copyrights and license agreements have been violated and this is in no way an electronic frontier.

  7. Why did you never once attempt to open a dialog with the songwriters groups about how we could cooperate to solve the problems of illegal downloading BEFORE the lawsuits???? (nor since then either…)
    Not true- but in case you have not been contacted, consider the “open letter response by Fred von Lohmann”: a good start. Keep it going. We need you all to talk and get along; more importantly, *cut the big boys out of the picture*.
  8. Why were you so wrong about Grokster being legal?
    It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court ruled against this one- P2P is a technology to share information. Like the telephone and the Internet. P2P _accelerates_ the original intent of the internet; it makes immediate and massive distribution of any information quick and painless. Is this not a _fantastic_ piece of technology? It is unfortunate that the first and most extensive use of this technology was for violation of copyrights, but the technology behind it is sound and should, in fact, is being exploited for large-scale data distribution even today. Grokster was a single case- the technology and other companies that use it are still sound and legal.
  9. If illegal downloading isn’t hurting anyone then why have half the songwriters in America lost their jobs in the last five years?
    I was not aware of this statistic- I will read up on it and respond in the future. If this is true, it is sad. If it can be attributed to the loss of revenue due to illegal file-sharing, it is sadder still. On the other hand, the revenue of the recording industry at large has not halved in the past five years, so clearly there is a disconnect.
  10. Why isn’t EFF spending more its resources on actual freedom of speech issues instead of freedom to infringe issues?????
    The EFF is spending _a lot_ of resources on a variety of resources. The RIAA/MPAA/file-sharing issue is only one of them. Fore more, “lookie here”: and enjoy.
  11. If Fred Von Lohman thinks, “It’s plain that the dinosaurs of the recording industry have completely lost touch with reality…” then why do they keep beating him in court? (it must be quite embarrassing for him)
    Not really. I bet Fred loves his job, otherwise it is so thankless that it wouldn’t be worth it (by the way, Fred Von Lohmann is the Senior Staff Attorney for the EFF).

    Also, if you can beat me in court it does not make you any more in touch with reality. Or that you are not a dinosaur.