Righting the 'Copywrongs'

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Courtroom decisions dominate the news this week underscoring the potential legal opportunities copyright attorneys are facing. To those graduating college this May, think about taking your LSAT's.

First, the four owners of the BitTorrent tracking site, The Pirate Bay, were found guilty of violating copyrights in Swedish court. They were each sentenced to a year in prison, and ordered to pay over $3 million in fines. Many peer-to-peer advocates were surprised by the decision, as The Pirate Bay site only points to where BitTorrent files are kept. The owners issued a statement that they have begun to appeal the decision.

And in a courtroom thousands of miles away, a US Appeals Court overturned a judge's decision to allow live streaming of the high profile RIAA vs Joel Tenenbaum case. Tennenbaum is accused of downloading seven songs and the RIAA is suing him for hundreds of thousands of dollars. With this new decision, there will be no cameras allowed in the courtroom for the trial.

In other news, the French government is threatening to block a European telecommunications bill. The bill would undermine French President Nicolas Sarkozy's desire to cut illegal file sharers from their Internet service. Sarkozy has been advocating a “three strikes” plan, cutting off Internet service to anyone accused of making illegal downloads three times in 12 months. As long as there's no agreement, the next iteration of a European telecommunications bill hangs in the balance.

While Americans and Europeans argue over downloading and the use of copyrights, China is barreling ahead, with or without monetization.

In China, music comes with your mobile phone service and it's an important way to hear popular new music. There are over 340 million mobile music downloaders in the country. Most artists are not yet being paid for their work, but I see that as a simple question of time: 340 million people define a potential market.

Here in the US, and in many parts of the world, the largest challenge in monetizing the music market is updating the copyright laws and lowering the mandatory payments that still exist in our outdated system. Our current financial model is not sustainable in any way, as contractual payments are based on dollars and cents, not on percentages of sales. So when the music market severely declines, there is no adjustment based on the laws. And it is that core imbalance that has led the music industry to its knees.

If we change the laws to meet the current music business in ratio, everyone will be compensated for their efforts. It is the only solution to a deafening problem that has left an industry in paralysis.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.