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The Huffington Post: Good News! Ten Commandments Reduced Now to Only Nine - By John Mellencamp
10.25.2012 - By John Mellencamp - Musician & Activist - Posted to the Huffington Post

Good News! Ten Commandments Reduced Now to Only Nine

I love music. I love all kinds of music... old music, new music, country music, jazz, and popular music. I care about the future of music and about the well being of those individuals who will be making it in the future. Music has been my passion my entire life and I have been fortunate to never have worked a "straight" job because of it. I am one lucky guy to be able to pursue what I love and to have gotten paid for it. Who could complain?

I've been doing this a long time and I'm confounded by the apathy of those who have participated in music-related successes and are now witnessing the demise of the entertainment business as it has existed since the beginning of recorded sound and moving pictures. So here I plan to ask some questions and my hope is offer a solution to the problem.

Tell me where, under today's conditions of de facto indentured servitude, will the new artists come from? If I were a young songwriter today, I would definitely be looking for another way to earn a living. The same would go for the young screenwriter or novelist. And what about the guy who only had one or two hit records 10 or 50 years ago? What happens to this guy who depends on that income to support his family if people are stealing those songs now? Tough luck, right? This is the thread of failure in front of all artists today. Art exclusively as a hobby -- that's the "new model" it seems. And to all you bloggers who have prophesized that this new way is going to somehow provide sustainable careers? Your prophecies did not and will never come true. If there is the occasional sparkle of success, it usually turns out to be nothing more than a novelty, not a new business model. We need to restore intellectual property to its rightful owners and reconstruct the business that has lost thousands and thousands of jobs plus billions of dollars in revenue.

Why is thievery allowed to continue on the Internet? And why do people think it's so impossible to correct? Right after radio was invented, they played music and sold advertising. Then it dawned on some: "Hey, they're playing our music, and they're selling advertising on our backs; we should get paid." So performing rights organizations like ASCAP and BMI were established with the express intention of protecting the intellectual property of artists who create it.

These, in essence, turned into collection agencies. They were able to collect money from radio stations, jukeboxes, movies, television which were all then fledgling delivery systems, and provided a livelihood for their members. They were able to keep track of what was being played and sold all over the world with pencil and paper. The government held these systems responsible for keeping track of their respective broadcast neighborhoods. They turned new delivery systems into multi-billion dollar businesses. That was progress.

But where are ASCAP and BMI today on the new delivery system -- the Internet? Where are the record companies? Where are the book publishers? Where are the unions to which we pay dues that are supposed to protect actors, writers, songwriters, and producers? And, most importantly, where's the government? Apparently everybody's too busy making excuses and shrugging their shoulders to realize their gravy train has gone up the waterspout.

Yes, there's a mechanism called SoundExchange that collects statutory royalties from satellite radio, Internet radio and other sources of streaming sound recordings but it's powerless to deal with those who have simply helped themselves to the intellectual property of others. It's a laudable effort but not the answer to this problem.

There is a law that exists to deal with copyright and the Internet that dates back to the good ol' days of 1990s: the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It was supposed to bring U.S. copyright law into the digital age but it included something called "Safe Harbor Provisions" that basically says that each artist is responsible for retrieving his own merchandise and shutting down anyone stealing their property, which is kind of a joke. The law was written at a time when there were only a couple of kids running a handful of file trading sites in the world and was created to protect internet service providers from being sued if they facilitated the distribution of pirated material. This law now, unintentionally, allows big search engines -- like Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. -- to be the equivalent of a department store as both provide and sell many services and products. Let's say that Ralph Lauren has his merchandise in Macy's. If someone shop lifts it out of the store, he's told, "Hey Ralph, your stuff's being stolen off of our shelves. You better go try to collect your money for it. It's not our problem or responsibility since all we do is make your stuff available to non-paying customers..." In other words, under the Safe Harbor Provisions, search engines behave like unpoliced department stores where anyone can steal whatever they want with no real threat of significant repercussions.

There's an added bonus, even better... on top of everything, they're collecting advertising money from Madison Avenue. So what's happening is your search engine leads you to an illegal downloading site where you can download -- you name the artist -- their entire catalog and, at the same time, see products and services offered for sale ranging from soft drinks to pornography and, adding insult to injury, that merchandise appears to be endorsed by the artist to whom it's attached. The artist, who is already being stolen from, now appears to be shilling for these products. The gangsters are making money, but the artist? Squat. (And I do mean gangsters.. this is not just a couple of kids file trading anymore, these are criminals, quite literally.)

To put it plainly, radio kept track of their playlists, record stores kept track of their sales, each movie theater counted tickets, each bookstore kept track of books sold, and why? Because the law required it and the manufacturers demanded it. And so the same should apply to search engines. They should be governed in the same manner but they're not. The Safe Harbor Provisions allow intellectual property to be stolen because the search engines are not held accountable. There's actually Safe Harbor litigation going on right now between Viacom and YouTube. YouTube is claiming that it had nothing to do with the posting of copyrighted material because Safe Harbor puts the burden on whoever did the posting. But all of that is really a hair-splitting, distraction in the grand theme of things.

Why is it that people feel that this problem is unconquerable? Often, when I talk about it, I just get an eye roll and the comment, "It's just gone too far now. This is just the way it is." No, this is not the way it has to be. This is the way we've allowed it to become, this faulty "new model." Recent history has shown that things can, in fact, change. When online gambling, once a huge and thriving underground business, was determined to be illegal sites went out of business almost overnight. Why? Because legal gaming enterprises and government regulation brought the hammer down where it hurt the most - credit card companies were told they could not be part of this dubious trade and they complied immediately. In the same way, if anti-piracy legislation were the order of the day servers, wherever they may be including the mythical "cloud," could and would be shut down thanks to technologies that have been developed and successfully employed during the fight against terrorism. The means to get this done actually exists; what we're lacking, at the moment, is the will to do it.

My answer, and it's really quite logical, is that current search engines and any that emerge in the future (the brazen thieves at Pirate Bay have smugly threatened to start their own search engine) need to be held responsible in the same fashion as any other business in this country. The law needs to be changed. ASCAP, BMI and intellectual property creators need to work to get rid of the antiquated Safe Harbor Provisions. We need to write a new law that should declare, something to the effect, that if you own and operate a search engine, you cannot allow criminal activity to take place in your virtual town.

The entertainment business has been criminally assaulted by wrong-headed thinking that says we need to keep up with the Internet. No, search engines need to abide and adhere to the laws that have governed this country for over 200 years. It's a moral imperative. Thou shalt not steal. Ring a bell? Calling it progress, ol' Hoss, don't make it right.


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gee gee

everybody screamin rites but nobody wants to be responsible

Posted by geegee 2013-01-05 19:35:35.

Folk music

What I want is free and open folk music. That is non-professional music available. If a group of artist want to be high culture for profit that is fine. Just do not over extend and block/outlaw the people's music.

Posted by Ed_from_NY 2012-11-21 23:00:11.

Well-written.

John, I think the biggest problem, is that most of those in power who could do something about it just don't care. The music business is too focused on looking for a hot young artist to milk for maybe 5 years. Nobody wants to develop artists anymore. Sadly, so many great songs are no longer played on the radio anymore. Even with your vast catalog, radio plays Small Town, Jack & Diane, Hurts So Good, and Rock In The USA. That is about it. Music by anybody over 40 is vanishing. On a side note, please release some live DVD and Live CDs from your entire career. Make them limited editions of 2000 to 5000, to maximize profit potential and avoid them from ending up in the bargain bin. You are way too talented to not have live material out there. And remember, real live music does have mistakes. Don't be like Prince and be too afraid the recording is not perfect.

Posted by someday 2012-11-03 10:31:59.

second only to the atomic bomb

Hi John, totally support your views and opinion about the lack of regulations and copyright protection to artists via the internet. I have a problem with the internet allowing persons to be anonomous and spreading hate. The internet has educated and informed alot of folks but has hurt so many people too. It is not too late to make new laws to protect people's rights regarding what is available online. This high speed computer age is a true revolution and i learned in school when there is a revolution it tilts the scales way off in the extream opposite direction, then after a while it tilts back towards the more moderate middle. We need to get the middle back faster by making search engine companies accountable with all the things done on the internet. Yours truly from a grateful fan in Vancouver Canada ( saw you in Penticton and Abbotsford shows! Michael Lonsdale Fig & Fire

Posted by balsamic 2012-11-02 02:45:01.

There Ought To Be A Law

C'mon, we all know when we download music or movies we don't pay for it's illegal. I do it for hard to find albums like Merle Haggard's "Same Train, Different Time". Can't find it at the mall or Wal-Mart, but could probably find it at Amazon or somewhere. Certain artists like Neil Young & Steve Earle I will buy, but I also download others before buying (Chic Gamine, check them out!)I wrote my 1st song yesterday and would love to sing & play for a living but it's a long hard road with many distractions (American Idol, etc.)But after this article I will not download songs illegally and and I enloy paying local artists for CD's when I see them play. I didn't realize there was so much talent right here in my own backyard (Winnipeg, Canada)as it all seems to be drowned out by the latest bubblegum fashion of the day. Record companies need to realize there's an older demographic that is not being targeted/supplied to. We're not all teenagers. Anyway, that's my rant from a 46 year old Canadian. Keep going John, Emmylou, Neil, Steve, Tom, Lucinda,etc.

Posted by nicegitch 2012-10-26 11:24:40.

A step beyond...

Never been an artist, but I have been one of those DJs - you know like James Brown was reputed to pay off to play his songs? Your model does go somewhere, but there are always filthy things about the music business and you probably know far more than any of us who show up at your concerts (like Summerside PEI). I think the model is missing something though. The internet has no borders and yet some countries, networks, and other entities simply do not allow us in because of alleged copyrite protections. Try and link off of facebook to NCIS or some other show and your blocked because your not American. I don't think we have ever blocked a touring act because they weren't Canadian or made people jump through hoops to access the content. What incentive do you give to Pirate bay to go legit or even a GNU type model of licensing? Creative Commons has a number of levels that provide proprietary rights to anything, some of those include payment for deritive works which you talk about. I think what is missing is the fact that is a global reach to this and right now it seems many, probably too many organizations and individuals trenching up and fighting over rights. A certain amount of this is not going to go away. Just like the payola of the 50s and 60s - yet the music got out there in a way that made sense to the consumers - remember the 45 rpm record? You could tighten up search engines to curb thievery but it probably won't go away like many of the things that shouldn't of happened when there was a distinct distribution system that was hard copy based. Cheaters happened then, remember Japanese bootlegs? I don't mind at all paying a few bucks for a concert like yours. Paid some big bucks lately, and I was impressed with the modest ticket price in Summerside. You can control who goes into the building you have rented or are somehow playing in, but crazy things like trying to charge hairdressers for playing recorded music (Socan) is asserting control. I paid my DJ license faithfully every year when I was playing live and that wasn't a problem until we got into insurance, needing more lights, marketing and few things that must be similar enough for artists. That license stipulate that I had to buy all my music which I gladly did. The public however did not see it that way, many just started doing their own events with an IPod and its harder to sell them on the skills of reading a crowd or other entertainment value. Those who continue in that business are working with value added things like working with photographers, video and so on. Maybe your right the days of being solely a songwriter and not having another job could be becoming more limited. Maybe creativity is evolving and medias are merging? When you got something I think you get on the good foot and it transcends. I think the answer is to provide access on a promotional basis and have your money making where it is feasible. For years now I have tried to watch my favourite TV shows on their originating networks - cable does not allow that - yet I pay for it. I would rather support the artists behind the shows more directly, and I could care less if the Canadian networks need the revenue. There is something of that in everything, too much compromise. Keep on fighting the good fight, you got your finger on something, I am just encouraging you to find a grip.

Posted by glwilliams 2012-10-26 07:10:36.

Couldn't agree more!

Well said!

Posted by kbalmer 2012-10-25 14:55:25.

 
 

 

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