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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Stop Online Piracy Act Would Protect Creators of Speech

First Amendment Expert Floyd Abrams Says

Los Angeles – Leading First Amendment expert Floyd Abrams sent a letter this week to House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith and Ranking Member John Conyers reaffirming  that the Stop Online Piracy Act currently under consideration in the House of Representatives in no way imperils the First Amendment.

In the letter, Abrams writes:

“Any legislative efforts to limit what appears on the Internet, or to punish those who post materials on it, requires the closest scrutiny to assure that First Amendment rights are not being compromised. That is true of all limits on speech, and it is no less true of the Internet. But the Internet neither creates nor exists in a law-free zone, and copyright violations on the Internet are no more protected than they are elsewhere.
“The notion that adopting legislation to combat the theft of intellectual property on the Internet threatens freedom of expression and would facilitate, as one member of the House of Representatives recently put it, ‘the end of the Internet as we know it,’ is thus insupportable. Copyright violations have never been protected by the First Amendment and have been routinely punished wherever they occur, including the Internet. This proposed legislation is not inconsistent with the First Amendment; it would protect creators of speech, as Congress has done since this Nation was founded, by combating its theft.”

The Stop Online Piracy Act would, if passed, give the U.S. Department of Justice more effective tools to protect American intellectual property, including the films, television shows and sound recordings created by our members, from foreign rogue websites that knowingly and deliberately engage in the illegal distribution of our content for profit.

The full Abrams letter, which was written on behalf of AFTRA, the DGA, IATSE, SAG and the Motion Picture Association of America in advance of the November 16 House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Stop Online Piracy Act, is attached here.

Google Music Services off to a tough start

Why Google and music labels don't get along

Robert Levine, author of "Freee Ride," talks about why he thinks Google rubs music labels the wrong way
From the LA Times Company Town Blog. Click here for the latest industry news.

It's no surprise to Robert Levine that Google Inc. is having a difficult time making inroads with the major music companies.

Levine, a former executive editor of Billboard magazine, diagnosed it simply: "They have oppositional aims. And they come from completely different cultures. The combination is a recipe for antagonism."
The title of Levine's recent book, "Free Ride: How Digital Parasites Are Destroying the Culture Business and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back," gives readers a clue as to where he's coming from. In it, Levine argues that media companies, from news organizations to entertainment studios, were taken for a ride -- a free ride -- by technology sirens who sold them the line that on the Internet, "information wants to be free."

Levine, who lives in Berlin, is scheduled to give a talk Tuesday at USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism on the subject of Google and how the Silicon Valley technology giant "benefits from the work of others."

We spoke with him more narrowly on Google's 18-month, thus-far-unsuccessful effort to work with music companies to secure the licenses for storing, selling and streaming songs through its myriad of Web services. An edited version of the conversation follows.

Why hasn't Google been able to get the music licenses it wants?

Levine: Labels are essentially suppliers, and Google wants to be a distributor. The labels want a high price. Google wants a low price. They have oppositional aims. That's just capitalism.

Fair enough. But isn't there also a cultural dissonance?

The labels are essentially in the business of investing in intellectual property. Goggle is entranced by the possibilities of technology. They’re into the idea of making stuff as widely available as they can. But they get caught up in the transmission of information, and they tend to forget how much it costs to create that information. It costs very little to transmit a song over the Internet. But it costs a lot to create it.

What about YouTube, which Google owns? There's a ton of content on YouTube that's produced very cheaply by users. And yet, it's a very big business.

If you look at the top 10 videos of all time on YouTube, eight out of 10 are professionally produced music videos. It shows you how important professional content can be. That's why Google wants to do deals with the labels.

Major music companies have been criticized for not being forward thinking enough and not innovating new business models. If so, aren't some of their financial problems of their own making? 

People ask me, "Aren't the labels just being stupid?" The answer is, sometimes yes. But greedy and stupid people still have rights. Take my book, for example. If you think I am greedy and stupid, it doesn't mean you can download my book illegally. It's still stealing, no matter what you think of me.

Does that necessarily mean Google should be held responsible for the piracy that goes on? It's not as if Google equals the Internet and can control everything that happens on it. 

People talk about the Internet as though it sprang full grown from the brow of Zeus, and it is what it is. It shouldn't be regulated. I don’t believe in technology determinism. Some say, if left to their own devices, people will essentially do good. In my view, people who believe that usually get mugged. You still need laws that defend your rights.

OK, bottom line: Will Google eventually succeed with the labels? 

The question is how do their interests coincide? Google needs great content. The labels are in this weird position because they are peasants who are also kingmakers. They play an important role in deciding which Internet companies dominate in the next 20 years. At some point, both will realize that there is a great deal of money to be had. All of a sudden, you will see them getting along very well.

-- Alex Pham
Photo: Robert Levine, author of "Free Ride." Credit" Jo Bayer.

FOX / Newscorp/ Murdock Mafia

Oscar Producer and Host Shuffle, Nick needs to change, Is it Ricky Gervais back for Golden Globes

Job opening. Think you can host the Oscars? Well, now is your chance. Eddie Murphy followed his pal Brett Ratner out the door and won't host next year's Academy Awards. Murphy quit in reaction to Ratner's being forced out as producer of the show after making a joke that included an anti-gay slur and a raunch-filled appearance on Howard Stern's radio program. Renowned movie producer Brian Grazer ("A Beautiful Mind," "Apollo 13") has stepped in to produce the next Oscar show. How long until Billy Crystal or Steve Martin gets a phone call? The latest analysis from the Los Angeles Times and Variety.

Encore performance. News Corp. Deputy Chief Operating Officer James Murdoch made his second appearance before Parliament on Thursday morning to answer questions regarding the phone hacking scandal at the now-closed News of the World tabloid. Early coverage from the Los Angeles Times and New York Times.

Where did the kids go? Viacom Inc. released its fourth quarter results Thursday morning and had good numbers, thanks to Paramount's "Transformers" and a strong performance from many of its cable networks. However, on a call with analysts the company griped about a double-digit ratings decline at its kids channel Nickelodeon that it doesn't think is accurate. Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman said the company is working with Nielsen to find out if there was a glitch in the measuring of the Nickelodeon audience that could explain the unusual drop. More on the earnings from Bloomberg and more on the Nickelodeon situation from the Hollywood Reporter. Nick is making changes, shifting evenings after 9PM to the ladies...programming for moms 20 to 40.

They like him, they really like him. Despite all his wisecracks about movie stars, NBC is interested in having Ricky Gervais back as host of the Golden Globes, according to Deadline Hollywood. Whether the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., the subject of many jabs from Gervais, agrees remains to be seen. My advice: Do it. The publicity can only help the show and if Johnny Depp can take being made sport of,  so should you!

Anderson not flying the coop. Although his ratings have not set the world on fire, Anderson Cooper's daytime talk show will live to see year two, reports Broadcasting & Cable. In New York, the show is moving from Tribune's WPIX to Fox's WNYW. "The show is off to a good start and has the opportunity to grow organically into something unique," said Hilary Estey McLoughlin, president of Time Warner's Telepictures Productions, which makes the show.

 Inside the Los Angeles Times: The back story on Peter Liguori's exit from Discovery Communications. John Horn on how "The First Grader" plans to get some Oscar love.

-- Joe Flint
Follow me on Twitter. Who else gets up in the middle of the night to cover James Murdoch's appearance before Parliament?