RIAA chief hits new heights of hypocrisy in pro-SOPA NYT op-ed

Accuses opponents of most of the sins of his own industry, plus a few he just made up

RIAA chief complains anti-SOPA forces used his own dirty tricks against him.

Misinformation may be a dirty trick, but it works. – Cary H. Sherman, CEO, Recording Industry Association of America, NYT op/ed Feb. 7, 2012

The CEO of the organization most militantly dedicated to enforcing copyright at the expense of its customers, its business model, its credibility and the basic protections of the Constitution wrote an op/ed piece for the New York Times demonstrating the chance to abuse his enemies with half truths and invective is more important than rebuilding the credibility of his organization.

Cary H. Sherman, CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America called accused opponents of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) of hypocritically violating the net neutrality they aggressively defend in other circumstances and arguing their case using "hyperbolic mistruths presented on the home pages of some of the world's most popular web sites."

What are the hyperbolic mistruths? That SOPA and PIPA would have amounted to censorship, would have required ISPs and content providers to monitor content posted by subscribers to ensure none are violating copyrights and that it was demagoguery rather than democracy that made up the flood of public outrage that stopped both bills in Congress and ultimately killed them (in Sherman's opinion, until some new conspiracy can be crafted).

Sherman washes away another layer of RIAA's credibility – or what's left of it after the string of attacks on its own customers that made it look more like a Keystone Kops version of the Gestapo than a reputable organization trying to enforce its legal rights – with accusations that are not only wrong but completely off target.

The enforcement requirements in both SOPA and PIPA that made site owners responsible for any copyright violations committed by their subscribers, the no-trial, no-evidence process by which whole sites could be shut down following unsupported complaints by an alleged copyright owner and the chilling effect both would have on even content that is not covered by copyright has nothing to do with censorship, Sherman wrote.

All those things are just good law enforcement, protection of the copyrights of the music industry which is struggling to survive despite more than 10 years of experience with and opportunity to adapt to the new realities of the entertainment market.

Most of that time it spent chasing down grandmothers to try to scare consumers into buying overpriced CDs rather than download or stream just the content they wanted.

The entertainment industry is still in dire straits, Sherman wrote, ignoring recent reports showing that, given a decent opportunity to do so, consumers will actually buy music rather than steal it in most cases and that the American music industry is the leading beneficiary of paid-music services growing by leaps and bounds worldwide.

During 2011, the number of consumers using paid subscription services rose 65 percent to 13.4 million, the percentage of U.S. Internet users on P2P file-sharing services dropped to 9 percent in 2010 from 16 percent in 2007 and revenue from digital music sales rose 8 percent worldwide according to a recent a new report issued by IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry), the global version of the U.S.-based RIAA.

"Our digital revenues, at one-third of industry income (and now more than 50 per cent in the US), substantially surpass those of other creative industries, such as films, books and newspapers," according to IFPI CEO Frances Moore, in her editorial contribution to the report.

Sherman also ignores reports that all the dire predictions and alarming reports of financial loss due to piracy were based on nothing – literally nothing. The government studies cited as the basis of much of much of RIAA's complaints could never be found or presented by the agencies that supposedly conducted the studies.

Maybe Sherman should have read the IFPI report or looked around for the "government reports" backing up his case before crying poor-mouth about an industry that even on its worst was leaked cash from every orifice because it kept running out of places to keep it.

Pot calls kettle a hypocrite

Sherman also accuses Google, Wikipedia and other sites of violating their own support of net neutrality by arguing on their home pages that SOPA and PIPA would hurt their businesses, the services they provide to customers, the choices customers make about what to view or use online and force both site owners and customers into the role of enforcer for the RIAA.

That's editorializing, Sherman wrote, not an objective presentation of the facts.

Net neutrality, first of all, has nothing to do with editorializing. It's the principal saying vendors that own the pipes through which all the Internet's content flows can't pick and choose which content can flow through their pipes based on whether it competes with them or not.

Supporting net neutrality, in other words, would require opposing SOPA and PIPA, both of which would make site owners and bandwidth providers liable for complaints (even without proof) that content provided through their services was in violation of someone's copyright.

Censorship isn't censorship when RIAA does it

Arguing that SOPA and PIPA don't require ISPs, site owners or anyone else to monitor content and police it on behalf of RIAA – which Sherman does – ignores the portion of those acts that criminalize even accidental copyright infringements and give law enforcement permission (and sometimes a requirement) to shut down whole sites for contributing to the pirating of even one piece of content.

Both acts also leave undefined what constitutes illegal content, though both required law enforcement agencies to take action based on complaints from alleged copyright holders, with no proof they own the copyright or that the "pirate" has violated them.

That constitutes not only censorship, but illegal search and seizure, conviction without trial and reversal of the assumption of innocence that is the basic tenet of our legal system.

Sherman also managed to add more confusion to the issue of what problems SOPA or PIPA were designed to address with a totally irrelevant comparison between the rush of outrage over the bills from netizens who understand their rights and the misleading inclusion in both bills of rules about the import of counterfeit physical goods as well as the misuse of copyrighted content.

"Sure, anybody could click on a link or tweet in outrage — but how many [among SOPA opponents] knew what they were supporting or opposing? Would they have cast their clicks if they knew they were supporting foreign criminals selling counterfeit pharmaceuticals to Americans? Was it SOPA they were opposed to, or censorship?"

Yes, both bills mentioned foreign companies making counterfeit pharmaceuticals, a product category that does pose a serious health risk because there are no controls over what might be in them.

Both focused almost entirely on digital content, the protection of digital copyrights and the ways law enforcement agencies, courts, Internet providers, content providers, consumers and everyone else could be co-opted or indicted to help RIAA defend its revenue and godlike view of its own position and power.

Trying to change the subject mid-stream and warn that not supporting SOPA would doom thousands to be victims of fake pharmaceuticals is the ultimate in cynical misdirection and misinformation – exactly the charges Sherman laid against opponents of SOPA and supporters of the civil rights they violated.

Sherman declared both SOPA and PIPA, essentially, dead, writing that "we need to take a step back to seek fresh ideas and new approaches" to keeping people from listening to music without paying him for the privilege.

"We all share the goal of a safe and legal Internet," he wrote in closing. "We need reason, not rhetoric, in discussing how to achieve it."

Yes we do. We also need partisans willing to tell the truth about their own positions once in a while, and maybe apologize for trying to sue dead grandmothers to scare customers into obeying arbitrary rules, exploitive policies and extortionist pricing rather than try to find entertainment they like on their own terms from less abusive, less unreasonable sources.

The increases in sales of digital music prove that doesn't only mean piracy; it does mean the industry has to behave as if it believes in fair use, reasonable prices and in suing only live grandmothers.

Work on it, Sherm.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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