RIAA: U.S. copyright law 'isn't working'

The 1998 copyright law may need to be rewritten by Congress, RIAA President Cary Sherman says, unless broadband providers and others agree to antipiracy measures.

RIAA President Cary Sherman, second from right, says new pro-content industry federal copyright laws may be necessary.
RIAA President Cary Sherman, second from right, says new pro-content copyright laws may be necessary. Declan McCullagh/CNET

ASPEN, Colo.--The Recording Industry Association of America said on Monday that current U.S. copyright law is so broken that it "isn't working" for content creators any longer.

RIAA President Cary Sherman said the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act contains loopholes that allow broadband providers and Web companies to turn a blind eye to customers' unlawful activities without suffering any legal consequences.

"The DMCA isn't working for content people at all," he said at the Technology Policy Institute's Aspen Forum here. "You cannot monitor all the infringements on the Internet. It's simply not possible. We don't have the ability to search all the places infringing content appears, such as cyberlockers like [file-hosting firm] RapidShare."

The complex--and controversial--1998 law grew out of years of negotiations with broadband providers, Internet companies, and content industries. One key section says companies are generally not liable for hosting copyright-infringing materials posted by their companies, as long as they follow certain removal procedures, once contacted by the owner.

In response to a question from CNET, Sherman said it may be necessary for the U.S. Congress to enact a new law formalizing agreements with intermediaries such as broadband providers, Web hosts, payment processors, and search engines.

The RIAA would strongly prefer informal agreements inked with intermediaries, Sherman said: "We're working on [discussions with broadband providers], and we'd like to extend that kind of relationship--not just to ISPs, but [also to] search engines, payment processors, advertisers."

But, Sherman said, "if legislation is an appropriate way to facilitate that kind of cooperation, fine."

Lance Kavanaugh, product counsel for YouTube, disagreed that copyright law is broken. "It's our view that the DMCA is functioning exactly the way Congress intended it to," he said.

The United States leads the world in the creation of innovative new Web ideas, Kavanaugh said, in part as a result of the compromises made when drafting that law: "There's legal plumbing to allow that to happen, to allow those small companies to innovate without [the] crushing fear of lawsuits, as long as they follow certain rules. Congress was prescient. They struck the right balance."

Last week, the RIAA and a dozen other music industry groups called on Google and Verizon to crack down on piracy, saying in a letter that "the current legal and regulatory regime is not working for America's creators."

Sherman acknowledged on Monday that YouTube is now doing a fine job of filtering and removing copyright-infringing videos. But, he said, Google "could stop filtering tomorrow and have no liability," as long as its YouTube subsidiary replied promptly to notifications.

And, he suggested, it could do far more: "If you enter in 'Beyonce MP3,' chances are, the first thing you'll see is illegal sites."

Disclosure: McCullagh is married to a Google employee not involved with this topic.

Update 6:20 p.m. PT: During dinner this evening, Cary Sherman told me that his response to my question earlier Monday was not a call for new legislation. Instead, he said, the RIAA would like to see congressional action only if necessary to formalize a voluntary deal with partners such as broadband providers. But a broader law enacted without their cooperation isn't what the RIAA wants, Sherman said.

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