[photo courtesy of J. Michael Krouskop Belmont Photo]
Gov. Phil Bredesen, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean at Belmont University on Monday.
A distinguished group of Tennessee’s political powers – Gov. Phil Bredesen, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean – were brought together by a noteworthy visit from the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke on Monday in Nashville.
The event, held in Belmont University’s Maddox Auditorium, also assembled a full capacity crowd of Nashville’s music industry movers-and-shakers for a town hall-style meeting about internet piracy.
The meeting began with a typical round of political cheerleading. Mayor Karl Dean, who has been labeled Nashville’s “best music industry asset,” called Rep. Cooper “the best Congressman,” and so on, down the line, the introductory baton was passed. But superlatives aside, there was a genuine camaraderie and continuity of purpose among Tennessee’s political leaders.
The speakers wasted no time getting to the metaphor of the day: Nashville’s recent flood. Cooper compared the “flood of water” to the “flood of piracy,” calling the latter, with a poetic flourish that the roomful of songwriters could surely appreciate, an “invisible flood.”
Rob Crosby, a Nashville hit songwriter, introduced Secretary Locke. Crosby’s real-life tale of visiting his hometown of Sumter, South Carolina, and taking a stand against a local file-sharing crime boss helped deliver the day’s “piracy is theft” message.
Secretary Locke assured Nashville that the issue of copyright has “the full attention of government.” The Secretary discussed the government’s effort to install international property norms and an international enforcement plan, which brings together the work of eight different public agencies as well as public comments. The plan brings forth 33 discrete action items. In short, Locke continued, the Obama administration plans to prosecute criminal activity and review policy and innovation for copyright law.
Finally, Locke gave the room something to cheer about when he advocated a “broad performance right.” He said his department supports the Performance Rights Act, which would award performance royalties to artists and labels, in addition to songwriters and publishers.
After the Secretary’s address, the floor was opened up to the audience members for a town hall-style debate.
The first question brought up the subject of international piracy and how the U.S. plans to combat it. The panel didn’t have much of an answer for the broad topic, though trade agreements and placing American values as a condition for trade were mentioned. (Since Americans don’t illegally download?)
Dave Pomeroy, head of the Nashville’s Musician’s Union, applauded the unprecedented cooperation of the music industry within Nashville, and urged the politicians to help take it beyond Music City in order to “change society’s view” of piracy.
Following Pomeroy’s remarks, Gov. Bresden made a group decision to re-brand piracy as “stealing.” This seemed to set off a battle cry for Music Row-ers of the old guard.
One music publisher pleaded the government to hold the internet service providers accountable for illegal activity, a topic that would emerge more heatedly at the end of the day. Locke conceded that the government was looking into “greater obligations for providers.”
Many of the comments from Nashville’s music industry leaders up to this point exposed a lack of understanding of current technology.
Mitch Bainwol, CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), was the first member of the audience to bring up real solutions, telling the panelists and his peers that we can no longer “attach our dreams to plastic.” The future is digital sales, he continued, as well as in new models like listening and access models.
Artists were also given the floor, with Big Kenny of Big & Rich reiterating the nomenclature of “stealing,” before presenting a genuine everyman’s analysis. Essentially, that if we’re smart enough to create the internet, we should be smart enough to fix it.
At this point in the afternoon, the consensus in the room centered on two counter-arguments: education of the public about piracy and government enforcement.
At these crossroads, Mark Montgomery, a tech entrepreneur and founder of now-shuttered Echo Music, said he did not believe that enforcement should be pursued, that “there was not a lot of talk about innovation” in the room.
Montgomery’s words alternately resonated and stung members of the room, though Gov. Bredesen commended his stance on innovation.
The panel seemed to regress with the day’s final comments. Gov. Bredesen had to lightly address why the government monitoring the internet for illegal activity was not the best practice in the Information Age, and certainly not in keeping with “the First Amendment ethic.”
Indeed, Montgomery’s words seemed to ring most true, and served to underscore the lack of innovative thinking that got the music industry in this rut in the first place.