You've probably heard some rumblings about the Stop Online Piracy Act recently. And in all likelihood -- especially if you watch major news channels like CNN -- it's probably all sounded pretty bad and pretty scary. Casey Shafer owns and runs Burning House Records -- an independent, San Francisco-based record label -- and he kindly offered to explain his perspective on what the bill's really about and why he thinks music fans should support it.
Casey! What does it all mean?
The Stop Online Piracy Act went to the House on Nov. 16. In short, what it
does is that it allows the government to block the domain names of rogue
sites that are dedicated to piracy -- sites like Pirate Bay. What it
would also do is force companies like PayPal, Visa, and Mastercard to prevent money from changing hands.
Money? Are piracy sites charging people now?
No, but these sites make millions of dollars a year in advertising. If it was sharing music for the sake of sharing music, I might have a different opinion on this subject. It's a huge business -- there's a lot of money changing hands for music, there's a lot of money being made from music, but none of it is going to the artist or the copyright holders, it's all going to these offshore sites.
Explain why these piracy sites have to be offshore.
Sites like YouTube and Soundcloud already do a pretty good job of policing copyright violations. For instance, the other day, I was trying to upload one of my artist's songs to Soundcloud and I kept getting a message saying that I couldn't because it was copyrighted material. I had to prove to them that I'm the one that owns the copyright. So the sites that are here in the States do a good job of policing themselves -- it's not perfect, but I think it works.
These rogue sites get around that stuff by being overseas, where our U.S. laws can't reach them. All we can do is ask them nicely to take down the copyrighted material. They make a lot of money, and tech companies -- like Google, Yahoo, any search engine selling advertising basically -- make a lot of money, too. Which is why those companies oppose this bill.
effectively stop anyone from putting YouTube videos anywhere else online. Is
No. As I said, every argument that I've heard against this is
completely hyperbolic and you've just given an example of that. I keep
hearing people saying, for example, that if an 8-year-old girl is filmed singing a
Rihanna song and her parents put that on YouTube, they can get sued or
shut down. That is not who the bill is targeting. No one is going to
care about that stuff even if it gets 20 million views. The only time
that would be an issue is if the parents started selling advertising on
that video. If there's money being generated then of course they should
have to pay the copyright holder. If there's no money being made, it's
not an issue. If you read the bill, that is absolutely not who is being
Also, in terms of regular music videos, most of the videos that you're seeing on YouTube are uploaded by the
artist or the record company. They've already sold advertising on that
video most of the time and if they didn't want you to use it, they
would've already disabled the embed code.
Why do you think the bill is such a good idea?
If you look at the last 10 years, it's not just the music industry that has suffered monetarily -- the consumers have too. Concert tickets and T-shirt prices have doubled to make up for the loss in record sales. In addition, creatively-speaking, this generation is the first one that hasn't had a generation-defining band. Where is this generation's Nirvana? Well, it's out there somewhere -- we just don't know about it because labels, as a direct result of illegal downloading, can no longer afford to take chances. And they can't afford to allow bands to grow and develop over time. If Radiohead had been signed today, they'd have been dropped as soon as their debut, Pablo Honey, didn't sell well enough. Think of what we'd have missed -- there would be no O.K. Computer or In Rainbows. It used to be that the big pop artists would sell 10 million records, which allowed the labels to take chances on things a little more alternative, but even the biggest pop artists just don't sell that very often now.