Don Henley Still Really Confused: Actually Claims Copyright Office Is Not An Advocate For Copyright Holders
from the wtf? dept
The aging rocker brigade continues to make foolish statements about the internet and copyright. We’ve already mentioned John Mellencamp’s and Stevie Nicks’ anti-internet comments, but we should probably include Don Henley in there as well. You may recall that at the beginning of August, after actually winning a copyright claim against a politician who used his song in a commercial, Henley went on a tirade about how evil YouTube is, and how the government needs to do something.
Apparently he wasn’t done yet, though his version of the government’s take on copyright seems to come out of a parallel universe. Rolling Stone did a short interview with Henley, where he spews some of the most uninformed garbage on copyright law that I’ve heard in a long time:
While the onus of legally pursuing infringement has always been on copyright owners, the U.S. Copyright Office clearly has not been a strong enough advocate for copyright owners, particularly when you look at its most recent decisions. I think that fact has been lost over the last 10 years, especially with respect to digital media.
This is incredibly laughable if you know anything about the Copyright Office, which has been the leader in pushing for ever more draconian copyright law and has a history of almost always siding with content creators over the public. The 1976 Copyright Act, which completely flipped copyright on its head in this country came out of the Copyright Office, and some of the same folks are still there (including the boss, Marybeth Peters) — and haven’t changed their opinion much. Peters, in particular, has always been a staunch supporter of copyright holders over the public.
But Henley wants to believe in this fantasy world of a different sort of Copyright Office… and he even has an equally laughable explanation:
Because the Copyright Office is a part of the Library of Congress, and the mission of a library is to provide free access to the public, there is an inherent conflict of interest. Perhaps the time has come to separate these institutions so that they are not at cross-purposes. After all, the Patent and Trademark Office is part of the Department of Commerce and, since U.S. music, film and other creative copyrights comprise one of our country’s most lucrative sectors, here and abroad, moving the Copyright Office under Commerce Department’s umbrella might be the most effective way of enforcing the law.
Mr. Henley is woefully misinformed, yet again. The idea that providing access to information is somehow “a conflict of interest” with copyright law would make almost any copyright scholar choke with amazement. The entire purpose of copyright law was to provide more information to the public. And yes, it was through a system of monopolies by granting exclusive rights, but to suggest that these two ideas are in conflict is wrong. And, Henley also seems a bit confused about the Library of Congress, falsely thinking that it’s something like a giant public library, and extrapolating from that.
As for the idea of moving the Copyright Office into the USPTO or into a similar role under the Department of Commerce, that again inherently confuses the purpose of copyright law. However, even if that did make sense, it’s got nothing to do with being a more “effective way of enforcing the law.” The Copyright Office does not “enforce the law,” so the whole concept of Henley’s comments makes little sense.
Separately, it looks like Henley has been talking to someone in the RIAA about how that darn DMCA (written with the help of the RIAA) just isn’t working any more:
Congress should amend the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), eliminating or dramatically limiting the Safe Harbor provisions so that ISPs [Internet service providers] and websites such as YouTube, MySpace and Facebook have legal liability for hosting infringing content. Just as distributors and retailers have equal liability under the law for distributing and/or selling bootleg or infringing music, films, software, and other intellectual property, so should online companies bear similar liability at law.
Doesn’t that message sound pre-written out by someone in the industry, rather than something that just popped out of Henley’s mouth? Either way, it’s also quite ignorant of the situation. There’s a very good reason why the safe harbors are in the DMCA and that’s to make sure the right party is liable for copyright infringement. The reason that distributors and retailers can be liable for distributing or selling is because they’re the parties actually responsible, rather than a separate third party tool provider. The ISPs in this case are more like the companies selling the CD players that play the bootlegs. Does Henley think those consumer electronics firms should be liable as well?
From there, Henley — again, apparently living in a parallel universe — claims that the labels never should have removed DRM:
The recording industry was bullied by online retailers into removing protective measures, such as DRM, from their sound recordings or else facing the prospect of these retailers refusing to distribute their catalogs. Yet, so far, digital royalties on music have failed to live up to the hype; in fact, removing such protective measures has increased the theft of music and other intellectual property.
First of all, the labels weren’t “bullied” into removing DRM, they finally came to their senses after consumers revolted from DRM, and there was example after example after example of DRM harming legitimate customers (or leaving them high and dry after a server was taken offline). And the idea that removing DRM increased infringement is equally laughable. Everything that was released with DRM had that DRM cracked and was available online already. Removing DRM hasn’t changed anything when it came to infringement.
We’ve seen lots of really clueless music industry folks, but this interview really takes the cake as a new low.
Separately, I should mention that I only came across this interview because of a (typically) angry tweet from Ticketmaster CEO Irving Azoff angrily tweeting about it. His complaint wasn’t about Henley’s blatantly laughable statements. Nope. He was downright angry that Rolling Stone referred to Henley’s ignorant comments as “conservative.” Seriously:
Don’s views are “surprisingly conservative” to whom? The writer? Please be sure to thank him for his editorial comments. It’s interesting that a writer from a magazine empire that was founded and built around music and musicians now seems to be taking a position in opposition to it’s content providers. How about free copies of Rolling Stone for everybody – in perpetuity?
Calling someone’s views on copyright “conservative” hardly is taking a position “in opposition to content providers.” On top of that, it’s downright obnoxious that Azoff seems to think that writing about music and musicians means supporting greater and greater government-granted monopoly rights for those musicians. As we’ve seen time and time again, less copyright tends to lead to greater creative output and greater net benefit. So, if you actually looked at the evidence, it would seem to suggest that a publication supporting music and musicians would also support less copyright.
But, of course, what copyright really supports is (you guessed it) middlemen and gatekeepers. And what’s one of the biggest gatekeepers around in the music industry these days? Oh right… Ticketmaster. Frankly, this is pretty disappointing. About a year ago, I met with various Live Nation execs who really seemed to get the whole new business model/CwF+RtB concept, and were talking about ways that they could better enable that for musicians. While Live Nation definitely didn’t have the greatest reputation, I was actually excited maybe a major player in the industry would start to enable new business models, focusing on the future and the opportunities of setting the infinite free and selling scarcities, rather than misguided whining about copyright. Then the Ticketmaster merger closed, and it looks like with Azoff in charge, those plans are going nowhere fast.