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'Anonymous' Attacks Songwriters

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Today, the hacker group known as 'Anonymous' launched a denial of service attack on the website of Broadcast Music Inc. For those who don't know, BMI is a songwriter organization dedicated to ensuring that composers receive the royalties they earn through public performances of their music. For example, when a song is broadcast on the radio, television, or on the web, BMI collects the money and distributes it directly to its member songwriters.

Anonymous, in its press release about the attack, boldly asserts that, "We have seen BMI consistently legislate copyright and consequently have decided to take action to show the people will not stand for its crimes against the public."

Apart from the obvious fact that only Congress can legislate copyright laws, Anonymous also misses the point that collecting and distributing songwriter royalties is a service to the public, not a crime against it. Without the royalties that BMI collects and distributes to songwriters, the creators represented by BMI and other performing rights organizations like ASCAP and SESAC would not be able to produce all the great music that the public gets to enjoy virtually for free on the radio.

The Anonymous press release goes on to say, "We will not stand this abuse anymore. No company shall take advantage of our government to churn out profits and censor information in any form."

Once again, Anonymous utterly misconstrues the history and service to the culture that BMI has performed over the last 73 years.

You see, back in 1939 it was very difficult to get paid when your music was played on the radio if you were a jazz, blues, or country songwriter. The only major performance rights organization at the time, ASCAP, represented strictly pop songwriters and had little interest in signing other music writers of any type. It was during a feud between broadcasters and ASCAP that BMI was formed and began signing up those disenfranchised jazz, blues, and country songwriters and playing their music on the radio. Quite apart from censoring anyone, BMI helped give voice to those in this country who were not being heard.

This new influx of diversity into American music led to the general public getting exposed to the great African American, and country music composers of the time and later helped to give birth to rock 'n' roll. BMI helped to launch the sound of American Freedom. That multicultural explosion those BMI songwriters unleashed is still reverberating around the world. But it is now those very same songwriters that Anonymous is seeking to silence and to punish. Denying content users who want to legally license music from accessing the BMI website denies songwriters the right to be paid for their work. This is both unfair and illegal, and it is surely not "freedom fighting."

Copyright has always evolved with the times to help achieve a workable balance between the
needs of creators to earn adequate compensation for the use of their works and the public's
need to access creative works at a price that doesn't exclude people. To participate in that discussion about copyright, everyone needs to make their voice heard. But attempting to anonymously deny access to information on a songwriter's organization website adds nothing to that discussion.