Less than two weeks after the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, the divide between the creative community and the tech industry has surfaced in their expectations of the new administration.
In a letter to President-Elect Donald Trump, David Israelite, President & CEO of Washington, DC-based National Music Publishers’ Association has asked the Presidency to help introduce "fairness for one of America’s most important small businesses: songwriters" and set "protecting copyright as a priority for the Trump Administration."
Israelite (pictured) pointed out the "stronghold" enjoyed by giant technology companies in Washington under the Obama Administration, in particular Google's "close relationship with the White House." Wrote Israelite: "Relationships like these led to an unfair and often hostile stance towards the creative community whose work has been systematically devalued by the very technology companies who rely on its product."
Referring to an earlier letter sent to Trump by the Internet Association, Israelite wrote: "Such companies recently wrote to you requesting support for the Internet industry and its 'innovation', however we implore you to keep in mind that innovation is the first casualty of a lack of incentive." He added, "Intellectual property has been the victim of increasing pressure by Internet and digital companies who want to make other people’s private property free. The ultimate victim will be the music itself, after all incentives to create have been removed."
Israelite continued: "Like many small business owners in America, songwriters are under attack by overregulation and degradation by Washington bureaucracy. We are hopeful that your administration is a sign of change for them – and that under your leadership they will be able to profit from the work they produce in a fair and free-market way, as other property owners do."
Israelite attached to his letter "a short summary of priorities for the songwriting and copyright community." The list includes: Protecting copyright and intellectual property as a means to create jobs and fuelling the innovative economy; Promoting fairness for American music creators in particular in removing the government from the creative process; Providing meaningful tools to combat copyright theft online and address the issue of safe harbours; Encouraging intermediaries to cooperate in preventing infringement; And advancing high-standard trade agreements.
The first salvo came a few days earlier from the Internet Association, self-described as the "united voice of the internet economy", and which represents some of the biggest names in the industry from Amazon, Spotify and FaceBook to Google, Pandora and Netflix. Internet Association President and CEO Michael Beckerman wrote a letter to the President-elect with "a policy roadmap detailing opportunities for the incoming administration and Congress to enable continued growth and success in the internet ecosystem, and in turn, the US economy".
“The internet industry is a critical force for growth in our modern economy,” said Beckerman. “We look forward to working closely with the Trump administration along with Republicans and Democrats in Congress to implement policies that promote innovation and cement the internet’s role as a driver of economic and social progress for future generations. Internet companies are a key component for freedom and economic growth at home and abroad. The story of this industry embodies the spirit of free enterprise.”
The roadmap included: Upholding intermediary liability laws and policies that protect free speech and creativity on the internet; Supporting the copyright safe harbors, which remain "the gold standard worldwide for fostering innovative online ecosystems beneficial to creators and service providers alike"; Ensuring a balanced and flexible copyright system that "enables free speech, economic growth, and the development of new technologies and creative content"; Protecting robust flexibilities in law that support legal user access; Establishing "strong limitations and exceptions in copyright law, such as fair use, allow the public to access legal content and create new forms of follow-on creative works;" and modernising the US Copyright Office, among other things.
The IA claimed that "to fully bring the legal framework governing musical works into the digital era, policy changes should focus on (1) efficiency of licensing works; (2) fairness in law that encourages, rather than stifles, new and innovative services that lower barriers to entry for artists; and (3) transparency of information, including a database of ownership data, which remains elusive and unavailable, exacerbating difficulties in licensing of works."
The letter concluded: "The internet industry looks forward to working with you on policies that encourage this kind of growth, innovation, and consumer choice." The IA letter raised a few eyebrows in the creative community, as shown by Israelite's letter.
The feeling creative circles in Washington, DC is that the internet industry is pushing for an agenda that is intent in to create maximum flexibilities for digital platforms at the expense of creative content. For Neil Turkewitz, former RIAA Executive Vice President, International and Washington, DC-based artists' advocate and recent member of the team at the International Center for Law and Economics, a global think tank, the roadmap issued by the Internet Association "appears to have been written while looking in the rear view mirror."
Speaking to Music Week, he elaborates: "Instead of advancing an innovative vision for the future built on a careful examination of the failures of the past, the Internet Association statement mostly calls for more of the same. The reliance on legacy regulations that promote lack of accountability is particularly troubling. IA’s members know better than anyone else how much technology and consumer preferences have evolved since some of these regulations were first adopted 20 years ago."
Turkewitz sees a contradiction from the IA in "rightly arguing for antitrust authorities and other regulators to take account of how things have changed in assessing their businesses" and "sensibly arguing for 30-year old privacy rules to be brought into the modern age". But at the same time, "they cling to things like outdated safe harbour rules that, whatever their merits 20 years ago, also need updating."
He adds, "Just as outdated privacy rules are unlikely to serve consumer welfare today, neither are outdated rules governing the relationship between content creators and the intermediaries IA represents. One would have thought that some of America's boldest and fastest growing companies would have had a more creative and forward looking vision for enhancing our prosperity and cultural diversity."