As a musician that cares about fans, copyright law and lawsuits like this one between Universal and GrooveShark are both frustrating and encouraging. I can’t stand that people have to pay a massive amount of money for pirating music. A song costs a buck, so if I stole 1000 songs, I should owe $1000. I’d even go so far as to say that the person enforcing the copyright could get a court order to find out who I had shared the songs with in order to enact the same penalty. This kind of enforcement, while still kind of dumb, has some semblance of logic and sanity. If someone steals your car, the insurance company doesn’t give you 150000% its value to buy a new one. You are lucky to get what it is worth and you don’t lose the hassle of dealing with the entire situation. Stealing sucks and people shouldn’t do it, but it also sucks to provide a benefit to those who were stolen from. That suggests that the victim should be a profitable position, which is simply not natural.
Even though is frustrates me to know end people are getting royally screwed for downloading music, it is a good thing to know that songs we write can be protected. I’m not asking the RIAA to sue kids out of existence for downloading music illegally. But, it is beneficial to know that I do have rights for content that I create. When someone tries to use my music for something I don’t believe, I can say no. When someone else is trying to sell my songs, I can say no and sue them or go to the authorities. These are good things because while I’m personally fine with kids getting my music online for free, I’m not OK with my music showing up in pornography or sold by someone who isn’t going to pay me for the use. Having a copyright helps me to control my work and create a career.
The nice thing about copyright currently is that it is primarily a system based on owner enforcement. It is the copyright holder’s responsibility to enforce their rights, otherwise a violation might be considered authorized if the copyright holder knew and did nothing about it. Again, this is a good thing. If someone downloads my music on bittorrent (and I’ve seen our new record on plenty of torrent sites), I’m OK with it.
What does all this have to do with SOPA? SOPA aims to make it easier to sue and penalize those who infringe on copyrights by allowing rights holders do things like shut down payments to the site and make search engines stop displaying the site. Streaming copyrighted content also becomes a felony. The result of this sort of action is that copyright ceases to be a tool for artists to retain their rights and instead includes the government in the process of stopping piracy. The result is that major labels will most likely try to sue most web services out of existence for losses that were never truly incurred. Not to mention that it censors the web by allowing copyright holders a mechanism for abuse. Imagine a label that cuts off some deal with Google and then sues them for copyright infringement. In theory, they could potentially have Google search results removed from Google!
The fact is we need the government to stay out of copyright. If you write or create anything, you now own something. It is your prerogative to share it and make it available or keep it private. By involving the government more and more in copyright, you invite them to your creative table, to your privacy and your property. They don’t belong here.
If you a musician you should recognize that copyright is not why you make a living. You can make a living as an artist by providing great content. That content is defined as create (in terms of a career) by how well it motivates people to pay for it. It doesn’t matter if they steal the song if they come to the show and buy the record, a poster and a t-shirt. Instead of worrying your music is being spread across the world without you getting paid, it might be a better exercise to consider why people don’t feel compelled to pay you.