As leaders of the Artist Rights Alliance, Copyright Alliance and CreativeFuture, we believe in the right of creative people to make a living through their creativity, ingenuity and hard work. But that work is being undermined by the existential threat of digital piracy.
Technology and widespread digital piracy have overtaken the notification and takedown system that Congress introduced in 1998 with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Piracy destroys livelihoods and careers, and hurts innovation and the US economy—at least $47.5 billion and 230,000 to 560,000 lost jobs each year. Too many American creatives are faced with the impossible task of monitoring the global Internet for tens of thousands – often millions – of infringements of their copyrighted works.
In other words, under the current regulatory framework, some tech giants have benefited — on a scale that Harvard Business School professor emeritus Shoshana Zuboff has called “world historic.” They have done so at the expense of those who make so much of the original content that draws users to internet platforms in the first place.
As leaders of three different creative coalitions, we think this is a sure sign of a broken system, but you don’t have to take our word for it.
After an extensive, multi-year study, the US Copyright Office concluded that the “balance” the DMCA was trying to achieve had “gone wrong.” More than 17,000 Americans recently signed a petition calling for sane copyright reform. They are not stars or celebrities. Rather, they are independent creatives fighting for their rights and livelihoods online, as well as supporters of the creative industries.
It is commendable that the Senate is currently considering the Strengthening Measures to Advance Rights Technologies (SMART) Copyright Act, a bill that proposes a new approach to implementing technological measures to prevent infringement. Congress expected tech companies to work with copyright owners to take such action when it enacted the DMCA a quarter century ago, but as the US Copyright Office has noted, almost no automated tool has had official recognition as a standard technical action under the DMCA for a while reaches three decades. If passed, the SMART Copyright Act would help achieve the balance Congress intended by providing greater incentives for technology companies to meet their responsibilities to prevent abuse on their platforms and services.
This would be a small but significant step toward achieving Congress’ original goal and would help bring the DMCA into the 21st century. In addition to clarifying and improving the DMCA standard framework for technical measures, the SMART Copyright Act would create a new system through which effective technical measures to combat online infringement could be established and implemented. Through a careful and flexible process, the Copyright Office could ensure that tools to effectively combat piracy are implemented consistently and in a manner that addresses the concerns of service providers, copyright owners and internet users. Importantly, the bill also includes a number of built-in safeguards to prevent overburdening smaller services or harming internet users, and to ensure due process and freedom of expression concerns are effectively addressed.
Opponents of updates to our copyright laws often claim they hinder free speech or even “break the internet”. Such weary rhetoric sounds hollow here. These sensible reforms simply give internet companies a “duty of reasonable care” to protect the users and others most directly affected by their platforms, just as traditional companies have done for decades. The SMART Copyright Act does not attempt to impose any onerous standards or regulations. It simply creates a process by which the Copyright Office can gather information, review ideas through rigorous and transparent processes, and engage stakeholders in identifying anti-piracy approaches that have proven safe, practical, and effective in the marketplace.
An internet that destroys content creators and brings huge profits to platforms is already broken. Users do not access Google search, YouTube or Facebook to admire the source code. (In fact, it is carefully guarded.) People use the Internet to read articles and books, listen to music, watch TV and movies, view photos, play video games, and enjoy other expressions of creativity.
Online platforms have undermined creative professions and jeopardized the prospects for future creativity. Luckily we can fix the broken internet – a good place to start would be adding the SMART Copyright Act to the toolbox.
Congress should act now – by bringing the DMCA into the 21st century and ensuring that creatives, through their hard work and ingenuity, can make a living creating art and entertainment loved by people around the world.
Stacey Dansky is Executive Director of the Artist Rights Alliance, an artist-run nonprofit dedicated to supporting musicians, songwriters and artists in the digital landscape. Stacey previously served on Capitol Hill as Senior Counsel for the House Judiciary Committee. Keith Kupferschmid is President and CEO of the Copyright Alliance, a position he has held since 2015. In this role, he is responsible for overseeing all aspects of Copyright Alliance’s operations — including strategy, government affairs, communications, membership and liaison with boards and committees. Ruth Vitale is CEO of CreativeFuture, a non-profit coalition of over 500 companies and organizations and nearly 300,000 individuals dedicated to advancing the value of creativity in the digital age. She has held senior positions at Paramount Classics, Fine Line Features and New Line Cinema.