Net neutrality is a threat to the music industry

Rick Carnes Contributor
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Newsflash: the music industry is struggling due to online theft. Okay, that’s not news. It has been going on for years as billions of our songs have been stolen online. So you can imagine that songwriters and musicians from Nashville to Los Angeles and everywhere in between are suspicious of government regulations that not only harm our ability to protect our songs from online theft but jeopardize our ability to create new opportunities that will save jobs in an industry that was already facing enormous hardships.

Last year, without Congressional authorization, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued “net-neutrality” regulations that will make it harder for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon to help us combat the online theft of our music. Songwriters like me felt a considerable amount of pain that our government would throw a roadblock in front of the progress we were making. Talk about “one step up and two steps back!” (credit to a songwriter named Bruce from New Jersey). That’s why we support H.J. Res. 37, a resolution in Congress disapproving the FCC’s net neutrality rule which passed in the House of Representatives on April 8 by a vote of 240-179.

We in the music business have had our share of well-documented challenges in this digital age. I wish I could call them “growing pains,” but that hasn’t been the case. Over the past decade, largely due to online theft, the recording industry has declined by nearly half and artist rosters have been decimated. That means fewer songs, which is why songwriters in particular have been hit hard. The devastation is real: a walk past the shuttered buildings on Nashville’s famed Music Row tells its own story. We have personally watched our colleagues lose their livelihoods and shelve their dreams and their musical gifts to the world.

But, with the recent cooperation between our industry and the ISPs, we’ve had reason to believe we can finally begin to grow again. In fact, this increased cooperation between the music industry and the ISPs has led to new opportunities that benefit artists, writers and the music-loving public. Deals have been negotiated with ISPs in countries around the world in which ISPs offer music services to their broadband subscribers — a win-win-win for ISPs, creators of music, and consumers of both broadband and music services. The 2011 IFPI Digital Music Report highlights such deals in countries like Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Ireland, Australia, and Taiwan.

Unfortunately, the uncertainty created by the FCC’s end-run around Congress may discourage ISPs and other potential business partners from entering into such new business models with the music industry, a loss for businesses and music-loving consumers alike. And the impediment to legitimate business perpetuates online theft, which results in degrading network performance for everyone. Most importantly, it cannot help but cause the loss of more jobs at a time when the music industry and the economy as a whole cannot afford to see more layoffs.

Despite the challenges and hardships we’ve faced, we have strongly held that the free market must be allowed to work here. While online theft is by no means under control, we welcome the interest of the ISPs and other online players in finding business solutions to it. We’ve had a promising start. Now we just can’t afford to let the FCC impede that progress by promoting another government “solution in search of a problem.” By passing HJ Res 37, Congress sent the FCC a strong message worthy of a country song: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Rick Carnes is the President of the Songwriters Guild of America.