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John Mellencamp: Congress must target search engines

Musician-turned-activist wants new SOPA-like law preventing search engines like Google from linking to Web sites where pirated music might be found.

John Mellencamp, the rock musician turned political activist who jointly launched the Farm Aid concert series, has found a new cause: attacking Internet copyright law.

Mellencamp says that U.S. copyright law should be rewritten to compel Google and other search engines to police Web pages they index -- that number in the billions -- and delete links to infringing Web sites.

The musician, once known as John Cougar Mellencamp, wrote in an op-ed yesterday that:

What's happening is your search engine leads you to an illegal downloading site where you can download -- you name the artist -- their entire catalog and, at the same time, see products and services offered for sale ranging from soft drinks to pornography and, adding insult to injury, that merchandise appears to be endorsed by the artist to whom it's attached. The artist, who is already being stolen from, now appears to be shilling for these products. The gangsters are making money, but the artist? Squat.
John Mellencamp
John Mellencamp CBS News

Mellencamp's Huffington Post op-ed calls for revising the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), saying "the law needs to be changed" to squash sites like "the brazen thieves" at The Pirate Bay: "We need to write a new law that should declare, something to the effect, that if you own and operate a search engine, you cannot allow criminal activity to take place in your virtual town."

It echoes the same argument that the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America used last year when arguing that the DMCA was outdated and copyright law must be expanded. Their legislative effort, the Stop Online Piracy Act, was designed to make allegedly piratical Web sites virtually disappear from the Internet.

But the MPAA and RIAA's lobbying efforts spectacularly failed in January when major Web sites went dark, millions of Internet users protested, and SOPA's sponsors backed away from their own bill. Even Microsoft, known for its aggressive views on expanding copyright law, got cold feet a year ago.

SOPA said that Google and other search engines must, when receiving a legal order, "prevent the foreign infringing site that is subject to the order, or a portion of such site specified in the order, from being served as a direct hypertext link."

That would be broader than what the DMCA allows, which is page-by-page takedowns, rather than yanking entire Web sites or domain names. That's more free-speech protective, because a Web site with some infringing portions can also be home to public domain or other non-infringing music or video files.

For its part, Google says it receives 1.2 million requests per month to remove links to pages, with Microsoft being the most frequent complainant, followed by the RIAA and movie studios.

It says it complies with 97 percent of the requests, which are submitted under a process created by the DMCA for the benefit of copyright holders -- a turbocharged takedown process not available to people who believe their privacy is violated by a YouTube video, for instance, or think a blog post is libelous or defamatory.

In August, Google went beyond what the DMCA requires by announcing a new policy that penalizes sites that generate too many complaints from copyright owners. For YouTube, it's introduced an automatic infringement-identification system called Video ID, which also is not required by the DMCA.