Brendan Whitt


Blought #32: DMCA vs Music Pt. 1

When Kanye West announced the release of his latest album The Life of Pablo I was ecstatic. Sadly it came with a rather large asterisk. Not only did Yeezy announce that the album would be released exclusively in digital format, but that he was also only releasing it through Tidal. Thankfully the album was made available on Spotify but I’m still not able to complete my collection of Kanye’s physical albums.

Of course this issue is bigger than Kanye. After a bit of digging I’ve drawn the conclusion that the music business is moving away from physical music releases. This past spring over 400 musicians, mangers and labels signed a petition urging congress to make changes to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act or DMCA.

The DMCA was unanimously passed by congress before being signed into law in 1998 by President Bill Clinton. At the time the internet as we know it was still in its infancy.  The DMCA was created as a provision to protect an artist’s work from being illegally distributed on the internet.

A major component and perhaps most unpopular amongst the music industry are the DMCA’s safe harbors. The DMCA safe harbors were designed to designed to make it easy for information and data to be shared across the web. The music industry believes that the safe harbors make it easy to allow the illegal distribution of their music and content.

The catch 22 to that claim is that the DMCA and its safe harbors are responsible for the internet that we use today and without them the internet probably wouldn’t be possible. Katherine Oyama, Google’s Senior Security Counsel stated that “…Youtube, iTunes, Netflix, Google Play, Amazon, Hulu… would not have been possible if…[they] had faced existential threats from copyright litigation.” Oyama went on to further defend the DMCA and its safe harbors by saying that they “are today driving billions of new dollars into the entertainment industry every year.”

Essentially the safe harbors have become a pillar of US Law. Remove the DMCA and you can almost deconstruct the majority of the internet. An artist can in theory sue Google for displaying their image, likeness or music in a web search. All of Youtube’s content with the exclusion of user submitted content could also be subjected to copyright litigation. Even Facebook and Twitter would be under some scrutiny.

How? Because some of the DMCA’s primary roles besides copyright protection are to allow content and information to be shared or linked throughout the web which are Facebook and Twitter’s primary functions. Giving the music industry their way could mean the public losing out.

The music business’ main concern is that they are losing out on money. In their collective words having content removed is too expensive and time consuming. A provision of the DMCA holds content creators and owners accountable for reporting any violations of digital copyright laws. If you ask me labels should have to report violations themselves.

You are already a multi-million dollar company. Some of those funds should be allocated to establishing digital copyright violation divisions versus complaining about the safe harbors.

At the end of the day do we really care that a millionaire artist is losing out on dime on the dollar when the majority of America can’t find work or pay off mortgages that equal those artist’s Saks Fifth receipts?