Mix-Tape SWAT Raid Based On Non-Copyright State Copyright Law
from the your-tax-dollars-at-work dept
You might remember the story from a few weeks ago about how the RIAA had a SWAT team raid an Atlanta hip-hop mix-tape producer. The situation surrounding the raid — in particular how the RIAA gets a public law-enforcement SWAT team to do its dirty work — was already quite murky, but as the EFF’s Fred von Lohmann notes, things aren’t getting any clearer. While the mainstream media interest in the case has waned, some bloggers have stayed on top of the story, pointing out that this is not a copyright case. The SWAT team was from local authorities, not federal agents who enforce copyright law, because the DJs aren’t charged with breaking copyright laws. Instead, they’re being hit with state racketeering charges, with the apparent underlying law Georgia’s “true names” statute. These sorts of laws were pushed through state legislatures by entertainment industry lobbyists, and require audiovisual recordings to carry the real name of their producer — basically giving the RIAA and MPAA a way to get local cops to bust vendors selling pirated material, without having to go to the trouble of involving federal authorities.
Things start to get a little shifty with these true names laws, as there’s some question as to whether or not they illegally pre-empt federal copyright laws. The analoghole blog has done a pretty great job of delving into this issue, noting that the Georgia law’s attempt to make the distribution of unauthorized audiovisual works illegal would certainly appear to step on the toes of federal laws. The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled that it does not, while a similar law in California also stood up to a legal challenge. It seems like the effort has been made to really make an end run around copyright law, as the Georgia law says that owners of the “master copy” of a recording determine what’s authorized and unauthorized distribution — not the copyright holder, meaning even if an artist holds the copyright to their music, but their record label owns the master tapes, they’re not the ones making the call. While the law, and this case, isn’t very clear, one thing is: the RIAA has again used the legislative system and public law enforcement as a servant to protect its outdated business model. While there’s enough question surrounding these true names laws to warrant further examination of them by a higher court, we’re once again left wondering why state legislators and police have seen fit to do the entertainment industry’s dirty work.