Rappers LL Cool J and Public Enemy's Chuck D rolled up on opposite sides of Capitol Hill Tuesday for a Senate hearing on the hotly debated topic of file-sharing.
Also present at the Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommittee hearing, called to investigate whether the recording industry's campaign of suing suspected online pirates is too harsh, was Mitch Bainwol, chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America. Bainwol asked P2P networks to act responsibly and take steps to help stem the rampant copyright infringement that occurs on their networks. The RIAA suggested three ways for them to do so.
First, P2P interfaces can change their default settings so that users don't unwittingly allow other people to access files on their hard drives. P2Ps can also alert users to the laws and penalties of copyright infringement. And finally, filters can be put in place to prevent copyrighted material from passing through the networks.
"The law is clear," Bainwol said at the hearing. "Yet the understanding of the law is hazy. Why? In large part it's because the file-sharing networks like Kazaa deliberately induce people to break the law. These systems should no longer induce music fans to break the law, diminish computer security, disregard privacy or compromise the integrity of content. There is a brighter future just around he corner if the operators of these networks just voluntarily execute these three common sense and easily implemented reforms."
Chuck D wasn't about to let online freedoms be curbed. "P2P to me means power to the people," he said. "I trust the consumer more than I trust the people at the helm of these [record] companies."
LL used a rather bizarre metaphor to render the practice of illegal file-sharing down to its basic element: stealing. "If a contractor builds a building, should people be allowed to move into it for free, just because he's successful?" asked Mr. Cool J, as he was addressed at the hearing. "Should they be able to live in this building for free? That's how I feel when I create an album or when I make a film and it's shooting around the planet for free."
In response to accusations that the RIAA's tactics were too heavy-handed, Bainwol said that before a lawsuit is filed, the defendant will be notified by letter to encourage a settlement, and as of Monday 64 had been reached (see "Sixty-Four Alleged File-Sharers Back Down In Face Of RIAA Lawsuits"). "We are trying to be reasonable and fair and allow these cases the opportunity to be resolved without litigation," he said.
On Monday, heads of the P2P networks Limewire, Grokster, Blubster, Bearshare, Morpheus and eDonkey 2000 met to announced the formation of the trade group P2P United. The members of P2P United are opposed to instituting filters but are willing to work with record companies in finding a way to pay artists for the work that's traded over the network.
They also took offense to industry allegations that P2P networks are havens for child pornographers, hackers and spyware. "[Those charges] are not central to the relevant debate," said Adam Eisgrau, P2P United's executive director, "and that debate is about how we build an online marketplace for the 21st century."
For complete digital music coverage, check out the Digital Music Reports.