The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing this week on the Future of the Internet, dealing principally with the issue of net neutrality – whether Internet Service Providers treat all content carried through their facilities equally.  This issue principally involves questions of whether ISPs can charge big bandwidth users for their content to be transmitted through the ISPs facilities, or to be transmitted at preferred speeds.  The testimony of Chairman Martin at the hearing raised several issues – issues both about what he said and what some reports perceived him to say.  Some reports had him saying that the FCC did not need to regulate indecency on the Internet – though I never heard that question asked. But he did say that he did not have trouble with ISPs blocking illegal content such as child pornography and illegal file-sharing, which raises the question of whether some might look to ISPs to become copyright police – blocking access to material that does not have copyright clearances.  And, with the hearing being held on the same day as a media company purchased a company that can identify copyrighted material by reviewing that content when transmitted on the Internet – is that possibility coming closer to being a reality?

In recent weeks, there have been several trade press reports about government regulation of indecency on the Internet.  I’ve seen at least two trade press reports on Chairman Martin’s testimony before the Commerce Committee, claiming that he said that no government regulation of indecency on the Internet was necessary.  I did not hear any reference to indecency regulation in his testimony (a written version of his statement is available here, and you can watch the entire testimony, here).  Instead, that testimony was about whether Congress needed to pass laws to allow the Commission to enforce its net neutrality principles.  Nonetheless, the press seems to believe that Internet indecency is an issue which might be targeted by regulation.  A recent study finding that the majority of Americans think that FCC regulation of indecency should be extended to the Internet has also been cited in several reports.  However, despite the seeming interest in regulation of the Internet, there are serious constitutional concerns about any such regulation.  In fact, as we wrote here, numerous attempts to regulate indecency on the Internet have been overturned by the Courts on constitutional grounds, as the government could make no showing that the regulations were the least restrictive means for restricting access to adult content.


Continue Reading Indecency and Copyright Enforcement by ISPs? – Questions From the Net Neutrality Hearings

With July 15 now less than a month away, the new Internet Radio music royalties are still scheduled to go into effect.  Congressional legislation is slowly being considered, and a Motion for Stay to put the regulations on hold pending appeal has been filed (see our post here).  Some discussions on settlement have also taken place, though no deals have been done.  Without some action, payments under the new rules will soon be due.  See our memo, here, for more details on the CRB decision, and all of our posts on this issue, here.  While the legal and legislative actions are still proceeding, and the clock is counting down, the coverage in the popular media continues to grow.  In two recent discussions of the issue, SoundExchange spokesmen seem to blame Internet Radio for the current woes of the recording industry and to justify the high royalty rates through comparisons to the illegal pirating of copyrighted music.  All of these issues will be discussed at a seminar that I am moderating later this week at the Digital Media Conference in the Washington DC area.

One example of SoundExchange’s recent claims can be found in a series of articles found on the Los Angeles Times website featuring a "Dust-up" exchange of viewpoints on the Internet radio issue,  between Kurt Hanson, owner of Internet radio broadcaster Accuradio and the publisher of the Radio and Internet newsletter, and Jay Rosenthal, a Board member of SoundExchange.  Mr. Rosenthal, in attacking the value of Internet radio as a promotional tool, said that while webcasters might excite people about new music, most new music is now illegally downloaded so that the promotion doesn’t actually help the artists.  But, as Kurt Hanson points out, that would essentially be an excuse for never promoting any music in any venue – in fact it seemingly would be an excuse for shutting down the recording industry.  If music promotion just leads to illegal file sharing sites, and little or no music is ever to be sold again, why bother?  Does the recording industry really expect to make up for lost sales by receiving royalties from Internet radio?  Yet the same point seems to be made by SoundExchange President John Simson in a piece done by the PBS program NOW.  That program focused on the Internet Radio station Radio Paradise and how its popular, eclectic music mix will be silenced if the new royalties go into effect.  In that story, Simson also points to illegal downloading as causing the woes of the music industry, seemingly implying that this justifies outrageous royalties – yet offers nothing to tie downloading to Internet radio.


Continue Reading 30 Days And Counting Down to the New Internet Radio Royalty Rates