Writers Guild East, Songwriters At Odds On Neutrality Rules

Are net neutrality rules inconsistent with anti-piracy efforts? Some content owners say the answer is yes.

The Songwriters Guild of America, for instance, is insisting that rules banning Internet service providers from discriminating by offering prioritized access will hinder efforts to fight piracy. This week, the organization filed a letter with the Federal Communications Commission insisting that a regulation banning Internet service providers from discriminating "would continue to permit rampant Internet piracy."

Songwriters Guild president Rick Carnes recently elaborated that an anti-discrimination rule could prevent content owners from teaming with Internet service providers to develop a plan that would offer users prioritized access to legal music. "Far from being non-discriminatory, this rule discriminates against my rights as a songwriter to go into the marketplace and make a deal with a network service provider to deliver my music as part of a premium service that offers consumers a better, faster, safer experience than they get when they illegally download music," he said.

Of course, it's still unclear whether the FCC is considering banning all forms of discrimination -- including deals for prioritization -- or only moves to degrade content. Arguably, however, prioritization and degradation are flip sides of the same coin, because delivering one company's content at super-fast speeds could make a rival's content seem slow by comparison.

The Writers Guild of America, East, meanwhile, makes the opposite argument. That group says that a strong non-discrimination provision is vital to ensuring that big media companies don't gain an unfair advantage over independent writers.

"As a practical matter, major entities can easily outbid independent creators of digital content for preferred access to audiences," the group writes. "This would be addressed by the commission's understanding of the term 'nondiscriminatory' to preclude service access providers from charging for enhanced or prioritized access. Otherwise it is almost certain that most of the content consumers view will be produced by a relative handful of major entities -- just as it is now in television and film."

As for copyright infringement, the Writers Guild East says that anti-piracy initiatives and neutrality principles can co-exist. "Everyone opposes car theft but no one proposes that we restrict access to the highways," the organization argues.

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