Today, FMC's Jean Cook spoke at a hearing on net neutrality that was held by the New York City Council's Committee on Technology and Government. Jean was among several witnesses which included representatives from technology, the public interest, digital entertainment and the creative community. Her remarks, which you can read in their entirety here, demonstrated the importance of open internet structures to musicians.
The goal of the hearing was for the Committee to decide about sending a resolution to Congress in support of HR 3458 -- the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009 -- as well as the FCC's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on net neutrality.
Joining Jean on the panel were representatives from Media and Democracy Coalition (of which FMC is a member), Common Cause and the Entertainment Consumers Association. Discussion ranged from the democratic power of the internet to the entrepreneurship it inspires to the platform it provides for free expression. Jean spoke eloquently about how the internet has been an incredible boon to artists -- especially those of the independent variety -- who use the web to compete on an equal technological footing with the biggest companies.
Musicians are collaborating, selling merchandise, booking tours and building fanbases via the web. OK Go's homemade YouTube video became an international sensation and led to the band winning a Grammy for best short video. Erin McKeown holds "virtual concerts" around her house that her fans can watch live online from all over the world. Even though she lives in a remote island off the coast of Washington State, composer Alex Shapiro makes a living off of commissions from her myspace page. Meanwhile, there are now countless legal services such as Rhapsody, Pandora, iTunes, eMusic, MOG and Lala that make it incredibly easy for listeners to seek out music. And niche music discovery sites such as Kalabash or Arkiv Music make it possible to delve deep into catalogues of music from around the world, and classical music is now on the same playing field as the most mainstream services.
She also gave examples of what a non-nuetral internet might look like, citing a 2007 incedent in which Pearl Jam was censored during a live AT&T webcast of a Lollapalooza performance.
AT&T had the exclusive right to the online broadcast of the concert, and during an improvised segment, singer Eddie Vedder made statements critical about then-president George W. Bush. AT&T censored this portion of the broadcast, leaving viewers at home wondering what he was saying. Although this isn't necessarily a perfect example of non-net neutrality, it does illustrate what can happen when one ISP has sole control over the distribution of content and is allowed to make its own calls about what is or isn't "acceptable" speech.
Jean also took the time to explain the difference between net neutrality -- which only applies to lawful content, applications and services -- and the problem of unlawful filesharing online:
Ensuring compensation for rightsholders is hardly incompatible with net neutrality. There are currently conversations about possible technological solutions to the illegal transfer of copyrighted content, but such discussions need not compromise the goal of establishing clear and transparent rules for net neutrality. In fact, net neutrality is critical to continue to nurture and support innovation and legal, licensed services as an alternative to piracy. In our quest to ensure proper compensation for creators and rightsholders, we must be careful not to compromise what makes the internet such an incredible platform for innovation, expression and entrepreneurship.
For more info on net neutrality and the music community, check out our Rock the Net page.