- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2005

Consumers would suffer if online file-sharing services are not held responsible for illegal downloads of music and movies, entertainment industry leaders told editors and reporters at The Washington Times yesterday.

Internet piracy robs the industry of millions of dollars each year and threatens jobs and future innovation, the officials said. If it is not reduced soon, young people will grow up thinking it is OK to take things without paying for them, they said.

“It comes down to something very simple: ‘Thou shalt not steal,’” said Mitch Bainwol, chairman and chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the trade group that represents the major record labels.

Other officials at the meeting included Cary Sherman, RIAA president; Rick Carnes, president of the Songwriters Guild of America (SGA); and Theodore B. Olson, a former solicitor general who is working with the groups.

The entertainment industry wants the Supreme Court to overturn a lower-court ruling that said Grokster Ltd., one of the most popular file-sharing services, is not liable for illegal downloads performed with its software.

The court is scheduled to hear arguments March 29.

On the other side of the case are technology and free-speech advocates who argue Hollywood will get to control technological innovation if the Supreme Court overturns the lower-court ruling.

Some musicians and artists, including rapper Chuck D, have broken ranks with their peers in the entertainment industry. They say it is wrong to steal copyrighted materials but that Grokster and other file-sharing services provide a critical alternative for them to distribute their work.

The major movie and music studios are typically cited as some of the Democratic Party’s most reliable supporters, but industry leaders have been recruiting conservatives to help build support for their case against piracy.

Mr. Olson, a lawyer who served as solicitor general during President Bush’s first term, has filed a brief with the court on the groups’ behalf.

Also, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) last month tapped John Feehery, formerly the spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, as an executive vice president.

The association angered some Republicans on Capitol Hill last year when it announced it had hired prominent Democrat Dan Glickman, formerly a Kansas congressman and agriculture secretary during the Clinton administration, as its president and chief executive, succeeding Jack Valenti, who retired in the summer.

Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on the Grokster case, the industry officials told The Times they will need help from Congress.

If the court upholds the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, the industry plans to turn to lawmakers on Capitol Hill for a legislative fix.

If the court rules in favor of the industry, officials said they expect advocates for free downloading of movies and music to appeal to Congress.

“It is very important for the Supreme Court to send the message that this is unlawful. We have an awful lot of young people who are growing up thinking this is OK,” Mr. Olson said.

The industry groups also will continue suing individual file swappers, regardless of the Supreme Court outcome, the officials said.

The RIAA has sued about 9,100 file swappers since September 2003 and settled with 1,925. No cases have gone to trial, and the average settlement has been between $3,000 and $4,000.

The MPAA has filed three waves of lawsuits, but officials have declined to specify the number of suits.

By most accounts, piracy has hurt the music industry most. Almost 3 billion copyrighted songs are illegally downloaded each month, the equivalent of 200 million compact discs, according to a brief that 40 state attorneys general filed with the court in support of the industry’s argument.

“It’s as if people were walking into record stores, CD stores or Wal-Marts 85 times a day and walking out with a song for free,” Mr. Olson said.

The officials said they believe there is a market for music and movies online. Apple Computer Inc. has sold 200 million songs since it introduced its Apple ITunes online service two years ago.

“Just think of what the marketplace could be if [most songs] weren’t free,” Mr. Sherman said.

Piracy has stifled creativity in the music industry, forcing many songwriters out of business, said Mr. Carnes, SGA president.

“Nobody should be allowed to build a business on top of my work and not compensate me for it,” said Mr. Carnes, who has written or co-written music for Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Pam Tillis and others.

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