BMI Says A Single Person Listening To His Own Music Via The Cloud Is A Public Performance
from the looking-to-the-sky-and-seeing-unlicensed-clouds dept
There’s no time like late on a Friday to send out disturbing missives. Companies who need to let staff go often find it easier to let the week "play out" before handing out the pink slips. Congressmen who need to shove through some questionable legislation often wait until the papers have gone to bed, or at least a majority of the voting citizens.
Martin Berenson, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for BMI has decided there’s no time like Friday evening to kick out an editorial about streaming music via the "cloud."
Berenson chooses to couch his arguments in the relative safety of Capitol Records (and others) ongoing legal battle with MP3tunes.com, a "subscription Internet music ‘locker’ service," before launching a grazing attack on "cloud-computing" in general. While the legality of MP3tunes’ actions is still under question, Berenson expresses his concern that its legal arguments could "create loopholes in the copyright law relating to the public performance right."
There’s a lot to unpack in this editorial, but what it all boils down to is this: BMI wants a chunk of this "cloud" money.
MP3tunes logically points out (in its arguments against Capitol Records) that a user making a copy on a "dedicated, private, remote storage device" and playing it back to himself is a private performance and, therefore, needs no licensing. Google, the EFF and Public Knowledge have all entered amici briefs (or "broad attacks on the performing right," according to Berenson) stating that, "if a user initiates a stream, it should not be considered a public performance" by the service.
This seems to be a logical thought: one person listening to his or her own music is not a public performance. But, won’t someone please think of the licensing? No worries, Berenson has that covered:
As previously noted, BMI argues that the public performing right has long applied to on-demand, interactive streaming. Additionally, it makes no difference if the audience for the transmission is only one person, who may receive the program at a unique time, and that MP3tunes’ attempt to make one to one transmissions into private performances is contrary to established law. We stress that it was only the existence of the unique copy made by each subscriber that was the critical factor that saved Cablevision from being an infringer. MP3tunes cannot evade that essential aspect of the court’s ruling on the grounds it would be more efficient to infringe with one copy in storage for all recipients.
Well, there you have it:
- The right to collect licensing fees has "long applied" to streaming services, and since it’s been there before, it logically follows that it should always be that way, no matter the differences of each situation.
- It makes no difference if only one person is listening — it’s still a public performance. BMI and their fellow performance rights groups have always been willing to grant individuals the rights of a crowd.
- Storage efficiency = infringement.
But Berenson’s just warming up, and this is where it gets really interesting (and by "interesting," I mean "ludicrous"):
The strength of the public performing right would be threatened by a ruling that broadens the Cablevision court’s private-performance ruling to otherwise-unlicensed services. Cloud computing will no doubt grow tremendously in the future and if MP3tunes’ argument is adopted by the court, unlicensed entertainment services in “the cloud” will steal audiences from existing licensed streaming services (as well as from more traditional media entities), and copyright owners will be harmed by such a ruling.
From that point, Berenson takes a quick run at Amazon’s Cloud Drive, mSpot and underdog neo-Luddites, Zediva (in particular, noting that Zediva’s DVD player farm "competes unfairly with licensed services" — which is a totally understandable statement, because the film industry has always been nothing but fair when dealing with competitors and customers).
While Berenson does not specifically attack or threaten Amazon’s new service/player, one can only gather from this editorial that the rent-seekers (BMI, ASCAP, etc.) are beginning to formulate their plan to get a piece of this hot, new action, if not already forming an orderly line outside the virtual door. The sentence, "The issues are not confined to MP3tunes," seems to indicate that he considers these services to be next in line for the MP3tunes treatment.
After all, Berenson equates listening to unlicensed music streams to "theft" and there’s really nothing more sincere than an "editorial" from a self-interest group. In closing, he offers this baffling line:
These efforts to diminish or circumvent the performing right point up the need for heightened vigilance on our part.
Godspeed, BMI. The more you can do to separate people from their music, the richer you should become. And with an entire nation of individual listeners billable as one (1) crowd, the sky’s the limit. (Hence, the "pointing up," I assume.) Just watch out for those pesky "clouds".