Artists' Rights

  • Statement of Digital Solidarity Petition


    Dear People—

    We’re writing today to ask you to sign the "Statement of Digital Solidarity Petition”

    The petition affirms support for copyright, and supports reforms essential for restoring fair treatment for artists in the digital domain. 

    Last March, in an amazing show of unity, every major union and rights organization representing recording artists, songwriters, and musicians signed a policy document[1] affirming the need for these reforms to protect artists’ rights online. It was supported by grass roots activist groups…and a letter signed by 400 individual artists.

    MusiciansACTION has been working to convince the leadership of our organizations that we, the  community of working artists/composers/musicians, support their defence of our rights, and want them to follow through with real action and resources.  

    But since April, anti-artist groups like Fight For The Future have been doing the opposite:  attempting to split the unity among musicians and isolate our labor and rights organizations.

    Fight For the Future specializes in using progressive language and musician support on valid issues like Net Neutrality to manufacture the illusion of our consent to anti-artist positions on copyright. 

    They use legitimate issues like ‘freedom of speech” and “fair use” as code words for shutting down ANY attempt to protect artists’ rights online. 

    Most recently, through the Rock Against the Trans Pacific Partnership (RATTP) tour, they’ve been using popular outrage at the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement to implicate progressive labor unions and artists in anti-copyright positions.  

    We fully support the RATPP tour’s legitimate labor, environmentalist, and pro-democracy goals. We’re not criticizing anyone performing in the tour or calling for a boycott. 

    But FFTF’s RockAgainstTheTPP page linking to the Google-funded Electronic Frontier Foundation, and their literature reflecting anti-artist talking points, are another matter.  

    There’s nothing progressive about the attack on out rights and livelihoods. Or about the billions being made in corporate ad-based and data mining profit from infringing files of our work without our consent or remuneration. Protecting major corporations from the rule of law is not “progressive.”

    And that’s exactly what EFF/Fight For The Future’s so-called ‘fighting’ is for.  

    We’re not buying it.

    Some of us are union members, some not. Some have been strong supporters of our unions’ positions on other issues, some dissident opponents.

    But today we’re standing with our unions and rights organizations in their call for reform to protect our rights; and serving notice to Silicon Valley and the US Congress that the days when musicians could be frightened or fooled into cheerleading for our own destruction are over.  

    We’re asking you to join us by signing:

    In solidarity, 
    Marilyn Carino, Tessa Lena, and  Marc Ribot
    For MusiciansACTION.  

    For more info, please read About the Statement of Digital Solidarity  

    *MusiciansAction is a grass roots organization of, by, and for working artists; dedicated to the achievement of economic justice in the digital domain.

    [1] 'Music Community' Submission to the US Copyright Offices inquiry on section 512 of the DMCA…signed by ASCAP, BMI, the AFM, SAG-AFTRA et al… supported by grass roots artists rights activists,  organizations, and a petition of 400 working artists, indie, major and self distributing.

    Further reading:

  • "Silent Concert"


    On Tuesday, 5/3, at 12 noon, musicians held a “SILENT CONCERT/Demonstration For Artists Rights”  outside the  Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse, 40 Foley Square, New York.

    Unfortunately, couldn’t be there myself — on tour "showing my skills to pay my bills": but I don’t mind writing in airports/train stations. And so:

    The event  coincided with hearings on section 512 of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) being held by the U.S. Copyright Office (USCO) inside the courthouse. 

    The DMCA is the 1998 law governing copyright in the digital domain.  Loopholes in the DMCA have left artists effectively powerless to prevent massive for-profit infringement, leading to the growth of a huge and damaging  black market (yup kids, that’s what we call corporate ad-based for-profit piracy: and that's exactly what it is) in our work.   If the devil is in the details, section 512  of the DMCA is our devil’s house. 

    The purpose of the SILENT CONCERT was to "ask Congress to fix the DMCA in order to protect artists’ rights in the digital age.”

    The actual event consisted of working artists/musicians standing with their instruments in a “silent concert” symbolizing “the music left un made… because…[section 512 of the DMCA] has permitted massive for-profit infringement that has devalued our music.”

    The “silent” musicians handed out literature calling for changes in the “Safe Harbor” clause of DMCA which “permits  online service providers to profit from infringement… without liability” claiming Safe Harbors should be denied to hosting platforms which ignore “red flag” knowledge of infringement on their site. 

    The literature urged Congress to update the DMCA takedown notice system so that each uncontested takedown notice applies permanently and automatically to all identical or nearly identical files. This way, artists won’t have to play whac-a-mole with thousands of repeating infringements in order to exercise their rights.

    The leaflet goes on:

    The technology already exists to protect creators fairly, in a way that will NOT interfere with free speech, and will NOT “shut down the internet!” 

    Have copyright protection and take-down systems been created that reasonably address civil libertarian concerns?

    Here’s Audible Magic Corporation’s response:

     “[the] technology could be implemented today." - Ikezoye, Vance, Audible Magic spokesperson April 3, 2016

    YouTube manages to run its own automated “Content ID” software without appearing to engage in ‘censorship’.

    Unfortunately access to this protective software comes at a cost.

    Independent artists must give YouTube access to their entire catalogue and use Content ID to monetize — thereby making YouTube money – in order to get access to its protection from infringement.

    Q: What kind of racket profits by selling ‘protections’ against infringements they themselves make possible?

    A: A protection racket.

    Q: Why – other than the fact that its parent corporation is worth 500 billion and this is the USA --  is this legal? Why isn’t YouTube required to protect the rights of ALL those on its premises, like any other business?

    A: Because of the Safe Harbor clause of section 512 of the DMCA.

    The ‘silent’ musicians called on Congress to further the development of  “Standard Technical Measures” (STM’s) that would enable an automated ‘takedown’ system to work, and, as an incentive,  to deny Safe Harbor to hosting platforms which, once STM’s are established, refuse to adopt them. 

    They tried to remind law makers:

     “We’re not asking for a special privilege, but a basic American right:  a fair market for our work."

    This protest was a small part of a new wave of activism by creators who are no longer afraid to speak out directly about reforming the DMCA. In March, I helped gather signatures for "A Creators’ View of the Music Ecosystem and Notice and Takedown". [a document circulated by the artists' rights group c3 (Content Creators Coalition) and presented to the US Copyright Office, (see the list of signers here: DMCA Signatures.pdf)] . The response was off the hook… everyone I asked signed.   

    The signers weren’t just “Rock Stars”, or functionaries from some 'built out’ advocacy organization, and this wasn’t just “the industry”. They were working musicians/ artists of all genres, ages, and levels of commercial success. 

    Almost none would have signed 3 years ago.

    This increase in activism is the opposite of what one would expect if the rosy tech industry claims of digital economic uplift for creators were true.  It presents a challenge to the ‘optimistic' statistical inferences drawn by  Steven Johnson [“The Creative Apocalypse That Wasn’t” NY Times, 8/23/2015]. 

    No working artist I know believes such claims.  If one thinks for a moment, the idea that the music market -- or ANY market — can somehow flourish while an open black market makes its products available for free -- is not only counterintuitive, its absurd.   

    As working studio drummer, composer, producer, music director extraordinaire (and Silent Concert ‘performer’) Steve Jordan put it:

    “more people are hearing [our] music than ever before.  So you would think that you would be making more money than ever before. But in actuality we’re making less money than we’re ever made, because people are allowed to use our material for next to nothing everywhere in the world now. So its actually worked against us. Only a few people in the record industry have actually made money off this deal. The rest of us are all canaries in the coal mine….” [Steve Jordan intvw by Joel Schlemowitz 5/3/16]

    The toxic economic environment created by the DMCA’s loopholes is what musicians working  in recording and recording related live performance deal with every day.

    And we don’t need Mr. Johnson’s macro economic statistical weatherman to know which way the wind blows. 

    So yeah, I’ll stay on the road longer each year to make up for lost recording income. I’m one of the lucky few able to do so. God help younger, working class, or less established artists trying to break through now (or older artists unable to take the grind, or composers, or parents of young children etc etc).  Current conditions serve as an entry  barrier to all the above.

    Is that a ‘creative apocalypse’? I guess not if you can afford to pay for your own recordings + $5-10,000 for a publicist + lose money on touring for awhile. Or if you only like music made by those who can. 

    (talented poor kids willing to sign exploitive “360” deals can play too. Life-long indebtedness may be their personal “apocalypse”. But the rest of us can enjoy their music – for free if we want. Sweet!)

    And speaking of touring vs those who believe that black markets help producers: I wonder exactly what the latter think is happening to conditions on the touring circuit now that virtually every artist has to go on the road more each year like I do? Supply and demand anyone?

     Oh, nevermind. 

    Sorry I missed the Silent Concert/demo. But you can be assured that until Congress stands up to the digital black marketeers, and restores a fair market for creators’ work in the digital domain, there will be plenty of others.  We’ll be back... we have nowhere else to go.


    M Ribot is a guitarist, recording musician, and artists rights activist with the Musicians Action group.  

    Note: the 5/3 event was intended to deliver a message to Congress and the public, and was in no way meant as a criticism of the U.S. Copyright Office, whose work in gathering stakeholder testimony deserves the respect of all parties. 

    Note: the Silent Concert was sponsored by the Musicians Action group However, the views expressed in this article are solely those of the author. 


    Further reading:

    Composer Maria Schneider has finally come out and said what every artist I know who’s informed on the issues thinks: 

    "… for the vast majority of the artistic community, including me, and every musician I know (and I know thousands), YouTube is a resounding disaster.
    There’s no use in beating around the bush, so I’m going to cut to the chase – I’m of the firm opinion that YouTube should immediately lose its DMCA “safe harbor” status."

    What does that mean? It means that like every other US businesses, YouTube and other hosting platforms should be held responsible for the damage caused by infringements they knowingly permit, or actively to encourage,  on their premises. 

    I have only one thing to add to Maria’s statement:  


  • Radio & Press on Artists' Rights w/ Marc

    -Observer: Musicians Mourn the Loss of Other Music, NYC's Best Record Store

    Yup.  Other Music is closing. "Don’t Mourn, Organize!"

    "Other Music’s closing isn’t ‘nature,’ it isn’t ‘life’—it’s a small part of the entirely preventable destruction of the economy of the people who make and sell recorded music. That destruction is being carried out for the profit of corporations which sell ad space on their sites’ ‘content.’ They don’t make music. They don’t sell it. But the more files, the more hits. The more hits, the more advertising dollars. If the files are posted illegally, without the permission of the person who made it, no problem: Congress has (so far) permitted these corporate black marketeers (and yes, YouTube fits this description) a free ride, granting them a ‘safe harbor’ from liability for the harm they’ve done.


    -Marc Ribot on Respecting Artists’ Rights at The Talkhouse 

    -NY Times Op-Ed - Room for Debate “If Streaming is the Future, You Can Kiss Jazz and Other Genres Goodbye

    -Listen to Marc & Sarah Manning discuss Artists’ Rights on the second half of WNYU’s The Phoenix

    -Newsweek: Putting a Price on Radio Play 

    -NPR's Morning Edition: