July 27, 2006 | By Derek Slater

Open Letter Responding to Songwriters Guild Prez

Earlier this month, we published "Frequently Awkward Questions for the Entertainment Industry" -- a sample list of tough questions you can ask RIAA or MPAA representatives at conferences or public speeches. Songwriters Guild President Rick Carnes sent us an email in response entitled "Aways [sic] Awkward Questions for EFF." Beneath the fold, we have posted an open letter to Carnes as well as the text of his original email.

Dear Rick,

I received your letter entitled "Aways [sic] Awkward Questions for the EFF" and would like to respond on behalf of EFF. In particular, we were surprised by Question 6, which asks why EFF has "never once attempted to open a dialog with the songwriters groups" about P2P file sharing. For the last several years, EFF has actively strived to engage in this exact dialogue with artists and rights holders of all types about constructive ways to get artists paid without fans getting sued or limiting innovation. We have attended dozens of panels and conferences, published Op-Eds in industry newspapers and magazines, and met with industry representatives and Congressional members in our nation's capitol. We have also published a number of white papers proposing solutions, such as our Better Way Forward paper.

We agree that the status quo is untenable. Despite lawsuits filed against more than 20,000 American music fans, file sharing is more popular today than ever before. Each of these music fans has been singled out to pay thousands of dollars to music industry lawyers; yet, to our knowledge, none of that money has gone to songwriters or performers. Dangerous "digital rights management" strategies also haven't slowed file sharing, but they have alienated music fans and threatened fair use, innovation, and privacy.

Our "Let the Music Play" campaign, launched in July 2003, calls on all sides to work toward a solution that gets artists paid while making file sharing legal. In order to succeed, any proposal will have to align the incentives of music fans, technology creators, and the entertainment industry, so that the more people share music and the better tools they have to do so, the more artists get paid.

We believe that collective blanket licensing is the most sensible solution and have detailed the advantages that would flow from this approach in our "A Better Way Forward" white paper. One particular strength in this approach is that it relies principally on private collective action, rather than on compulsory licensing imposed by the government. Since American songwriters have long relied on exactly such voluntary collectives in the form of ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, you doubtless are familiar with their advantages. There are, of course, flaws with any system, including collective licensing. But compared to the status quo, which does not directly compensate songwriters and performers for file sharing, this solution would start paying artists immediately. It would also encourage artists and fans to work together to share their music and build their fan base, since more sharing would equal more revenue for creators.

In closing, let me emphasize that EFF believes in and has always supported a balanced copyright system -- one that affords creators an opportunity to be paid while also ensuring access to information and culture for the public. While we may disagree about exactly how that balance should be struck, I welcome your thoughts and this opportunity to share ours with you.

Fred von Lohmann
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

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