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Showbiz Seizes on the Techlash

As lawmakers direct their ire at tech platforms and the likes of Google and Facebook face antitrust scrutiny, there's a word to describe how content lobbyists feel about it: schadenfreude.

On Wednesday, a group of musical artists, including Roseanne Cash, John McCrea and Tift Merritt, fired off a letter to key House lawmakers, claiming that Silicon Valley's "toxic brand of 'creative destruction'" was "a gauzy name used to justify rapacious monopolies run amok." They singled out not just Google and Facebook, but Twitter and Amazon, as companies that threaten to use their market power with a "flawed regime that practically encourages them to mistreat and exploit creators."

In Washington, lobbyists for studios and record labels have been grousing for years that major tech companies do not do enough to fight piracy --- even as Google insists that it is going above and beyond what is spelled out in copyright law. What changed the equation was the 2012 defeat of a major piece of anti-piracy legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act, after tech platforms helped lead an online protest against the bill. That left lawmakers a bit gun shy toward future measures, leaving platforms largely alone.

As the winds shifted toward tech on Capitol Hill, starting in mid-2017, the strategy of Hollywood studios initially was to watch from the sidelines. That started to change, though, as Facebook and Google executives testified before key Senate and House committees, including Mark Zuckerberg in April, 2018. That day, MPAA Chairman Charlie Rivkin sent a letter to Senate leaders, calling for "restoring accountability" on the internet, to the irritation of the Internet Association, which represents major platforms. They called Rivkin's letter "shameless rent seeking."

Now a group of creative artists, part of a group called the Artists Rights Alliance, is going even further in urging antitrust scrutiny --- which triggers also sorts of fault lines at the corporate level. The letter was to the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee, whose chairman is Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who is also a member of SAG-AFTRA.

Their letter is not the same as a Hollywood studio or a record label urging antitrust scrutiny. That usually happens in private meetings with lawmakers or at the Department of Justice, for fear that there will be some sort of corporate payback down the line. There's also the fact that Amazon and other platforms are now major content players themselves. But the letter from the artists amps up the rhetoric against Silicon Valley --- on Capitol Hill and likely in the presidential campaign.

Photo: Architect of the Capitol

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