Weekly Obsession: What's good for China ...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011 at 10:59am

It is, perhaps, a little obvious Music Row would back this bill.

Lobbyists for songwriters, artists, labels and pretty much everyone down to the engineers and the guys sweeping the studio floor are beating the hustings for congressional passage of the Stop Online Piracy Act.

That’s an innocuously named piece of legislation aimed at illegal versions of songs, movies and other intellectual property. Writers and performers say illegal downloads cut into their royalty checks.

Makes sense, protecting their own self-interest. It’s the American way.

Unfortunately, critics say, SOPA is written so broadly as to make, well, pretty much every site on the Internet run afoul of the law.

It reverses the current Internet copyright law — governed under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act — which enforces the so-called “notice-and-takedown” model. A rights holder sees an infringement, the service provider is notified, the content is removed. SOPA, on the other hand, extends the long arm of the law, now requiring payment servicers and advertisers to stop doing business with any overseas site that provides pirated material.

This raises myriad technical and free-speech concerns, all of which were assuaged by former senator — and current Motion Picture Association of America president — Chris Dodd, who said the bill is enforceable. After all, China did the same thing.

“When the Chinese told Google that they had to block sites or they couldn’t do [business] in their country, they managed to figure out how to block sites,” he told Variety, with a straight face, somehow.

Well, if it’s good for China, it MUST be good for the U.S., right?

While most congressional action this year has evenly and conveniently split Americans into the easy left-right divide, this one has sort of shuffled the deck. United in opposition: tech companies, the Occupy movement, the Tea Party, the ACLU and the American Librarians Association (yes, Congress, you’ve drawn the ire of the librarians; well done). On the other side, the unlikely alliance of the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, which haven’t agreed on anything since World War II (roughly).

Not to mention the full-throated support of the Row — which didn’t adapt to the electronification of the music business in the late 1990s and still seems unable to recover. Now it can’t seem to figure out how to protect itself and basic American principles at the same time.