Hooray for maintaining (or, more aptly, restoring) the intellectual property rights of artists who share their work via the Internet! The technology and creative communities have banded together in an attempt to encourage the development of, and educate the public about, the distribution of inventive, original Internet content over safe, reliable networks. The result is Arts+Labs, an advocacy group aiming to ensure that artists and innovators may safely share their work via online distribution channels “with confidence that their right to earn fair compensation for their creativity is respected.”

Founded by AT&T, Viacom, NBC Universal, Cisco, Microsoft, and the Songwriter’s Guild of America, Arts+Labs represents a coalition of technology and entertainment companies that regard the Internet as a wellspring of digital products, services, and entertainment where the public can make safe consumer choices. Furthermore, Arts+Labs hopes to “raise awareness of the growing problem of new pollution, which includes viruses, malware, hack attacks, spam, illegal file trafficking and other activity that threatens to degrade consumers’ Internet experience.” Mark McCurry, co-chair of Arts+Labs and former White House press secretary to President Bill Clinton, hopes that by providing artists and innovators a safe haven in which to share their creative talents through online distribution channels, not only will the consuming public benefit, but the legal rights of those innovators will also be wholly respected. When introducing Arts+Labs to the public in late September of this year, co-chair Rick Carnes, resident of the Songwriters’ Guild of America, stated: “The Internet provides access to the largest possible audience, which is a real opportunity for songwriters. Arts+Labs supports an Internet environment that recognizes the vital role creators play, while offering consumers a digital concert hall of safe, legal and affordable music.”

Prominent New York attorney Chuck Sims, of the law firm Proskauer Rose, serves on the advisory board of Arts+Labs. Sims’ expertise in such practice areas as Copyright, Defamation, First Amendment, Intellectual Property and Entertainment, Media and Information & Technology, serves to inform the consuming public how, where and when they can safely and legally access and enjoy inexpensive, innovative entertainment available on the Internet.

One strong motivating force behind Arts+Labs is the desire to curb the ever-increasing illegal piracy of digital music currently available online. Although the Internet serves creators in allowing them to share their work widely, that same technology allows others to copy music, video, and games and share or sell them without the creators’ permission. If creators do not have faith that the Internet will retain the integrity of their intellectual property rights, the greater public suffers through a reduced understanding and appreciation of the arts.

Arts+Labs’ plan to address the widespread problem of online piracy is somewhat unclear; however, the organization hopes that by educating consumers on where and how to download legally, it will help prevent the current trend of using illegal services, such as peer-to-peer networks. The founders of Arts+Labs hope that simple educational efforts designed to increase consumer awareness will have a large impact on the frequency of illegal downloads.

Because Arts+Labs is fairly new, it is not yet clear whether the organization will succeed, but it is clearly making concerted promotional efforts. Beginning in late September, the organization embarked upon a three-city tour in an effort to promote Arts+Labs and educate the greater arts community regarding its legal benefits.

Already, Arts+Labs has been criticized as an attempt to prohibit open access to the Internet. Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn characterized the effort as the “latest in a string of big-money front groups” and criticized the organization for being “nothing more than the most concentrated attack on the free and open Internet we have seen to date. Combining the power and influence of AT&T and the entertainment industry means only that both are going to wage an all-out war for the right to filter every bit of data anyone sends across the Internet.” Sohn is only one of several commentators in the industry who have criticized Arts+Labs as being all talk and no game. Particularly, critics have focused on the organization’s lack of detailed legal analysis regarding how they plan to accomplish their number one goal–prevention of online piracy.

Although the mission behind Arts+Labs is laudable in theory, this reader has yet to stumble upon any solid plan of action as to how the organization hopes to combat online piracy legally, other than by increasing educational awareness among consumers. Education is certainly valuable, but with the availability and accessibility of peer-to-peer networks currently on the Internet, it might not do the trick. Many are anxiously waiting to see if any litigation develops with the introduction of this new “heavyweight” advocacy group. Thus, the real question seems to be whether or not consumers will take advantage of the tools Arts+Labs provides for the safe and legal downloading of Internet technology and entertainment. Only time will tell, so keep watching.

To read more on Arts+Labs, visit this site.

Jaclyn Thomson

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