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Here Come Homeland Security Internet Police, and They're Already Shutting Down Web Sites They Don't Like

Murky new Internet regulation laws could stomp out freedom of speech...and the Department of Homeland Security has already begun.

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Normally, when a music site unwittingly posts a song that is not cleared for release, it will receive a standard, cease-and-desist form letter from the Recording Industry Association of America. If the site then removes the link or song, which most do, it will generally have no subsequent trouble. This most recent action, though, is an example of RIAA’s ever-expanding involvement in legislation, and reflects its consistently paranoid, regressive conception of the Internet. COIAA is, of course, backed by the music industry. A November 18 statement by RIAA CEO Mitch Bainwol regarding the bill:

“We are proud to lend our voice to the chorus of supporters of this important bipartisan legislation. In a world where hackers and copyright thieves are able to take down websites, rip off American consumers and rake in huge profits operating rogue businesses built on the backs of the American creative community, the committee has taken a strong step toward fostering a more safe and secure online experience for consumers.

Bainwol’s language not only reeks of McCarthyist scare tactics, it’s simply misleading. While “hackers” may be able to “take down websites,” there have been no instances of a “copyright thief” -- or, in more direct terms, music blogger -- doing this. By offering free music, it’s unclear why he believes American consumers are getting ripped off. And as established, the types of blogs shut down by ICE last week do not rake in huge profits... most rake in barely enough to pay for their Web domain names.

Simply put, RIAA is vehemently against music blogs (and, it sometimes seems, the Internet as a whole) because it does not understand the music industry it purports to represent. This was established back in 2003, when RIAA made aggressive efforts to sue 261 individuals -- including, notoriously, a 12-year-old honors student from the projects -- accused of downloading music from the Internet on P2P services. But that was seven years ago, and it’s astonishing that since then, RIAA has apparently made no effort to understand how the Internet works, and how blogs such as OnSmash ultimately help their artists’ buzz, posting videos based on their personal tastes and those that reflect their vast audience of potential hip-hop consumers. Or, perhaps, labels just really miss the days when they had to pour cash into the proffers of radio stations to get any airplay.

RIAA’s continued support of Internet censorship is a clear and desperate attempt to justify its existence in an ever-altering information society. You could call it an effort to stop time. Often, though, marketers and others employed by major labels will send out mp3s to blogs under the radar, knowing that ultimately having the music available will help their artists’ buzz and contribute to their bottom line, as income comes decreasingly from album sales and relies more on cross-promotion, marketing deals, tours and merchandise. That’s because RIAA doesn’t support artists -- it supports corporations. It's transparent about this; its mission statement explicitly states that it "supports and promotes the creative and financial vitality of the major music companies.”

Casey Rae-Hunter, a communications director and policy strategist for the artist advocacy group Future of Music Coalition (FMC), illustrates why an open Internet is, ultimately, much better for musicians in the long run:

“The two things that are most important to today’s musicians and creative entrepreneurs are innovation and access... For a decade, Future of Music Coalition has called for a straightforward Internet framework that lets artists compete in a legitimate digital music marketplace alongside the biggest companies. Open access to the Internet has led to tremendous innovations in the marketplace and inspired countless examples of creative enterprise.”

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