Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Radio: Say it ain't so, Joe!

Say it ain't so, Joe!

Questions for Joe Biden, RIAA enforcer.

If every downloader is a criminal and all the labels saints, do you feel the RIAA should continue to view innocent people being charged with downloading as collateral damage?

Do you back the RIAA’s proposal to slap a hefty royalty tax on terrestrial radio?

Do you support SoundExchange’s peace offering of “dark payola” to streaming audio broadcasters?

Most importantly, how deep in your hide are the RIAA’s hooks?

RAIN, CNet and other media sites delivered the bad news yesterday.

If you’re in radio or the streaming audio trade you now know that Biden’s in bed with the bad guys.

The difference between Barack Obama and Joe Biden is that the former wants to update and reform copyright laws for the 21st century while the latter wants all to remain status quo.

Obama is an Electronic Frontier Foundation guy. Biden’s content to give the RIAA lobby whatever it wants.

Biden also backs the RIAA’s black bag jobs against unsuspecting citizens accused of illegally downloading music.

It sued 83-year-old Gertrude Walton for illegally downloading music - an amazing feat considering that she was dead when the alleged downloads were done.

Sarah Seabury Ward, a 66-year-old sculptor was also sued for downloading gangster rap until it was proven that she owned no file-sharing devices.

The RIAA’s slogan: What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine too.

It doesn’t believe in democracy. It believes in kleptocracy.

They’re the true paragons of misinformation and greed.

Another question for Senator Biden: Who’s going to police the RIAA?

Artists can’t even get what’s owed to them by the labels through existing royalty regulations.

The RIAA explains it this way. The artists – and even their lawyers – aren’t savvy enough to grasp the complexity of their contracts – nor should they bother.
The RIAA’s advice to artists about the labels they’re on? Trust us. You already know what those two words mean in legalese.

Record label royalty statements are nearly impossible to decipher. In cases where artists audited their record company, the artist was proven gypped 95 percent of the time.

When radio devolved into an anodyne medium, younger demos, those most in tune with new media, discovered other sources and streaming audio and illegal downloading, along with word-of-mouth supplanted terrestrial radio as sources for new music.

The music buyer forty years ago didn't want records that skipped. Today's music buyer won't settle for second-rate highly compressed versions of their favorite songs.
A couple of days before the Biden VP announcement, Pandora radio founder Tim Westergren said that he’d consider shutting down the service rather than pay the extortion rate the CRB demands.
How many Amy Winehouse fans were turned on to Duffy by Pandora and other comparable sites?
This shows how out of touch the thugaroos at the RIAA and the labels they represent are.

They want to shut down streaming stations that are exposing new music and new artists to the masses.

The entertainment industry has a history of not knowing what’s best for it.
In the late forties, when radio started playing records – the labels protested, claiming that if their music could be heard for free – no one would buy the records.

When they realized how much product radio could sell with airplay, they invented payola to secure playlist positions.

The entertainment industry fought video recorders and held up their release for nearly a decade. They fought CDs. They fought DVDs. In the end every new technological advancement they fought ended up becoming a profit center.

In late 2007, CNet sent Presidential candidates a Technology Voters Guide, asking where they stood on present technology issues. The candidates that didn’t respond were mostly Republicans: Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani, and Fred Thompson. But only two Democrats didn’t respond: Bill Richardson and – you guessed right - Joe Biden.

If the Obama-Biden ticket goes all the way, the radio and streaming audio industries have a mission – inform Joe Biden that he has been misinformed.


sol said...

i think most thought obama would be closest to the artists because of his age and the demo he is most popular in. i did not expect that it would be joe biden carrying the bag for the riaa. in fact obama seems open for change and discussion where biden is an out and out riaa hawk. i hope obama relieves him of his dealings with the riaa to concentrate on foreign policy. its bad enough that the riaa will probably appoint someone like mary wilson formerly of the supremes to be a figurehead to replace mitch bainwol should obama become president.

Anonymous said...

Dianne Feinstein sponsored the Perform bill but Joe Biden's fingerprints were all over it. Obama's choice for Biden is disapointing. He is a shill for the RIAA and the MPAA. They got his price down early and the Democrat the needed to parade around.

I don't trust Biden for a moment and I hope Obama knows of Biden's RIAA relationship and makes him sever it to concentrate on foreign affairs.

If Obama is in Bainwol is out. People forget that Hilary Rosen was a democrat and had Clinton wrapped around her finger when she was in charge of the RIAA.

Anonymous said...

Pete! Roger! Come on down and sing your song and hope we all don't get taxed for listening to it....MEET THE NEW BOSS/SAME AS THE OLD BOSS. The RIAA will do whatever it takes. Wonder how many U2 and Stones tickets the Biden family got for their best contributors?

Anonymous said...

More from Slate. Not related to your problems with him. He plaguerizes too.

history lesson
The Write Stuff?
Why Biden's plagiarism shouldn't be forgotten.
By David Greenberg
Updated Monday, Aug. 25, 2008, at 1:35 PM ET

Teachers and scholars consider the unattributed use of someone else's words and ideas to be a very serious offense, but the public doesn't seem to mind much, at least when it comes to politics. The incidents of plagiarism and fabrication that forced Joe Biden to quit the 1988 presidential race have drawn little comment since his selection as Barack Obama's vice presidential running mate—just as revelations of plagiarism by Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin scarcely hurt their book sales. In 1987, before Biden quit the race, he called the incidents "a tempest in a teapot." Although most reporters disagreed then, at least enough to pursue the story, they seem now—perhaps jaded by two decades of scandal-mongering—to have come around to Biden's view.

But Biden's exit from the 1988 race is worth recalling in detail, because his transgressions far exceeded Obama's own relatively innocent lifting of rhetorical set pieces from his friend Deval Patrick, which occasioned a brief flap last February. Biden's misdeeds encompassed numerous self-aggrandizing thefts, misstatements, and exaggerations that seemed to point to a serious character defect. In some ways, the 1988 campaign—in which scandal forced not just Biden but also Gary Hart from the race—marked a watershed in the absurd gotcha politics that have since marred our politics and punditry. But unlike Hart's plight, Biden's can't be blamed on an overly intrusive or hectoring press corps. The press was right to dig into this one.

In the 1988 race, Biden began as a long shot. But after Hart dropped out in May 1987 over the exposure of his affair with Donna Rice, none of the remaining "seven dwarves" in the Democratic field pulled away from the pack. Biden's youth and vitality—as well as his tutelage by Patrick Caddell, the pollster-consultant considered a veritable magician by insiders—made him a decent bet to reach the front of the pack. Over the summer, the rival campaigns of Michael Dukakis and Dick Gephardt became concerned as Biden ticked upward in the polls.

Biden's downfall began when his aides alerted him to a videotape of the British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock, who had run unsuccessfully against Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The tape showed Kinnock delivering a powerful speech about his rise from humble roots. Taken by the performance, Biden adapted it for his own stump speech. Biden, after all, was the son of a car salesman, a working-class kid made good. Kinnock's material fit with the story he was trying to sell.

At first Biden would credit Kinnock when he quoted him. But at some point he failed to offer the attribution. Biden maintained that he lapsed only once—at a debate at the Iowa State Fair, on Aug. 23, when cameras recorded it—but Maureen Dowd of the New York Times reported two incidents of nonattribution, and no one kept track exactly of every time Biden used the Kinnock bit. (Click here for examples of Biden's lifting.) What is certain is that Biden didn't simply borrow the sort of boilerplate that counts as common currency in political discourse—phrases like "fighting for working families." What he borrowed was Kinnock's life.

Biden lifted Kinnock's precise turns of phrase and his sequences of ideas—a degree of plagiarism that would qualify any student for failure, if not expulsion from school. But the even greater sin was to borrow biographical facts from Kinnock that, although true about Kinnock, didn't apply to Biden. Unlike Kinnock, Biden wasn't the first person in his family history to attend college, as he asserted; nor were his ancestors coal miners, as he claimed when he used Kinnock's words. Once exposed, Biden's campaign team managed to come up with a great-grandfather who had been a mining engineer, but he hardly fit the candidate's description of one who "would come up [from the mines] after 12 hours and play football." At any rate, Biden had delivered his offending remarks with an introduction that clearly implied he had come up with them himself and that they pertained to his own life.

Most American political reporters were not so attuned to Britain's politics that they recognized Kinnock's words. But Michael Dukakis' adviser John Sasso had seen the Kinnock tape. Without his boss's knowledge or consent, he prepared a video juxtaposing the two men's speeches and got it into the hands of Dowd at the Times, David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register, and NBC News. When the story broke on Sept. 12, Biden was gearing up to chair the Supreme Court nomination hearings for Robert Bork, Ronald Reagan's far-right nominee. Biden angrily denied having done anything wrong and urged the press to chase after the political rival who had sent out what came to be called the "attack video."

Unfortunately for Biden, more revelations of plagiarism followed, distracting him from the Bork hearings. Over the next days, it emerged that Biden had lifted significant portions of speeches from Robert Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey. From Kennedy, he took four long sentences in one case and two memorable sentences in another. (In one account, Biden said that Pat Caddell had inserted them in his speech without Biden's knowledge; in another account, the failure to credit RFK was chalked up to the hasty cutting and pasting that went into the speech.) From Humphrey, the hot passage was a particularly affecting appeal for government to help the neediest. Yet another uncited borrowing came from John F. Kennedy.

If that wasn't bad enough, Biden admitted the next day that while in law school he had received an F for a course because he had plagiarized five pages from a published article in a term paper that he submitted. He admitted as well that he had falsely stated that British Labor official Denis Healey had given him the Kinnock tape. (Healey had denied the claim.) And Biden conceded that he had exaggerated in another matter by stating in a speech some years earlier that he had joined sit-ins to desegregate restaurants and movie theaters, and was thus actively involved in the civil rights movement. He protested, his press secretary clarified, "to desegregate one restaurant and one movie theater." The latter two of these fibs were small potatoes by any reckoning, but in the context of other acts of dishonesty, they helped to form a bigger picture.

For all these disclosures, Biden remained unbowed. "I'm in the race to stay, I'm in the race to win, and here I come," he declared. That meant, of course, that his days were numbered. Newsweek soon reported on a C-SPAN videotape from the previous April that showed Biden berating a heckler at a campaign stop. While lashing out at the audience member, Biden defended his academic credentials by inflating them, in a fashion that was notably unbecoming and petty for a presidential candidate.

"I think I probably have a much higher IQ than you do, I suspect," Biden sniped at the voter. "I went to law school on a full academic scholarship." That claim was false, as was another claim, made in the same rant, that he graduated in the top half of his law-school class. Biden wrongly stated, too, that he had earned three undergraduate degrees, when in fact he had earned one—a double major in history and political science. Another round of press inquiries followed, and Biden finally withdrew from the race on Sept. 23.

The sheer number and extent of Biden's fibs, distortions, and plagiarisms struck many observers at the time as worrisome, to say the least. While a media feeding frenzy (a term popularized in the 1988 campaign) always creates an unseemly air of hysteria, Biden deserved the scrutiny he received. Quitting the race was the right thing to do.

Twenty-one years on, how much should Biden's past behavior matter? In and of itself, the plagiarism episode shouldn't automatically disqualify Biden from regaining favor and credibility, especially if in the intervening two decades he's not done more of the same, as seems to be the case. But no one has looked into it. The press should give his record since 1988 a thorough vetting. It's worth knowing whether the odds-on favorite to be our next vice president has truly reformed himself of behavior that can often be the mark of a deeply troubled soul.


Note: In an article about plagiarism, crediting sources seems especially wise. I relied on three books about the 1988 campaign: Jack Germond and Jules Witcover's Whose Broad Stripes and Bright Stars?: The Trivial Pursuit of the Presidency 1988; Sidney Blumenthal's Pledging Allegiance: The Last Campaign of the Cold War; and Peter Goldman and Tom Mathews' The Quest for the Presidency 1988, along with articles from the New York Times and Washington Post.


Return to article


1) Kinnock: "Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get into university? Why is Glenys the first woman in her family in a thousand generations to be able to get into university? Was it because all our predecessors were thick? Did they lack talent? Those people who could sing and play and recite and write poetry? The people who could make wonderful, beautiful things with their hands? Those people who could dream dreams, see visions? Why didn't they get it? Was it because they were weak? Those people who could work eight hours underground and then come up and play football? Weak? Does anybody really think that they didn't get what we had because they didn't have the talent or the strength or the endurance or the commitment? Of course not. It was because there was no platform upon which they could stand."

Biden: "I started thinking as I was coming over here, why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university? Why is it that my wife who is sitting out there in the audience is the first in her family to ever go to college? Is it because our fathers and mothers were not bright? Is it because I'm the first Biden in a thousand generations to get a college and a graduate degree that I was smarter than the rest? Those same people who read poetry and wrote poetry and taught me how to sing verse? Is it because they didn't work hard? My ancestors, who worked in the coal mines of Northeast Pennsylvania and would come up after 12 hours and play football for four hours? No, it's not because they weren't as smart. It's not because they didn't work as hard. It's because they didn't have a platform upon which to stand."

Source: Maureen Dowd, "Biden's Debate Finale: An Echo From Abroad," New York Times, Sept. 12, 1987.

2) Robert Kennedy: "The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile, and it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans."

Biden: "We cannot measure the health of our children, the quality of their education, the joy of their play. It doesn't measure the beauty of our poetry, the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate, the integrity of our public officials. It counts neither our wit nor our wisdom, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. That bottom line can tell us everything about our lives except that which makes life worthwhile, and it can tell us everything about America except that which makes us proud to be Americans."

Source: Maureen Dowd, "Biden Is Facing Growing Debate on His Speeches," New York Times, Sept. 16, 1987.

3) Kennedy: "Few will have the greatness to bend history itself. But each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation."

Biden: "Well, few of us have the greatness to bend history itself. But each of us can act to affect a small portion of events, and in the totality of these acts will be written the history of this generation."

Source: Maureen Dowd, "Biden Is Facing Growing Debate on His Speeches," New York Times, Sept. 16, 1987.

David Greenberg, a professor of history and media studies at Rutgers, has two new books out: Presidential Doodles and Calvin Coolidge.

Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2198543/

Copyright 2008 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC

Anonymous said...

John, I admire your passion and openness. I know you lean liberal and you are not afraid to take a stand against your own party even during the DNC.

I knew nothing about Biden's relationshp with the RIAA, MPAA and FBI until you brought it up in your blog.

Being careful and a watchdog is one thing. A witch hunt is another especially when those driving it belong to the RIAA.

It shows me that Biden can be bought and the RIAA found his price. It is too bad that Obama's background check did not report the severety of Biden's actions and his blind support of the RIAA and MPAA. The world is not black and white.

as others have said here, I hope Obama isnt stuck with a loose cannon and sever Biden's ties with the RIAA (talk about right wing!) and have him concentrate on foreign affairs (far more important than some kid downloading a damn Metallica tune).

Anonymous said...

Gorman, for christ's sake come on already. Would you rather McCain or Obama. Screw that head case Biden. So he takes payola like most of your radio buddies. Big deal. Radio sucks anyway. It will never be the same. Let Biden stay on the RIAA payroll. Internet radio will sell itself out too. I have my iPOd and I am an independent thinker. I need no one else to tell me what to like.

Anonymous said...

Hey I agree with what you said about Joe Biden. RIAA puppet. But I really want to thank you for that hidden Roger Daltry video "Say it Aint So". I haven't heard that song in over thirty frigging years. I love it. Did you notice that it's the Who minus Daltry on the song. I remember when this came out. Great song. Great blog too.

Anonymous said...

I liked the Duffy and Frank Sinatra videos too. I only heard that Mercy song. She is really talented. I havent heard that other song on the radio. I enjoy your blog I dont always agree with you but the entertainment quota makes up for it. I like the way you sneak in audio and video links. Youre other site Buzzard book has that Trent Reznor singing out of key Billy Idol song video which is hillarious. Good Raspberrys too.

Concerned Democrat said...

Bleary eyed and very late and read your piece about Joe Biden. I don't agree with your timing during the DNC and its call to unity. It does bring to mind something you said at an appearance here in North Canton last year. When I met you I asked your opinion of the RIAA witch hunt and record companies charging more for a CD than many charge for a DVD. Your comment was that the labels and the RIAA should pay attention to the consumer, their customer and give them what they want before they look elsewhere for it. You cited bootleg albums as the genesis for boxed sets and CD singles with alternate tracks. My question is aren't the labels trying to win over their customers instead of fighting with them. That will not bring them back to the stores or make them want to download music legally. It is unfortunate that Joe Biden is under the RIAA lobbyist spell. I think that should be brought to Barack Obama's attention and that Biden should relinquish ties to that organization.

Anonymous said...

The problem with liberal candidates is that they are only liberal when they have to be. Don Henley - Walden Woods, for example. Meanwhile he sells his CD exclusively at Walmart. Many of these liberal candidates turn conservative when it comes to their own selfish wealth. It is a two-faced business. The labels are not liberal. They are one of the most conservative, right wing owned entities in the entertainment industry. Mitch Bainwol who chairs the RIAA is to right of Cheney. Joe Biden is just another dumb bloke who gets easy money from the RIAA lobby and PAC. It shows how easy it is to buy a liberal. Just show him the money.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the last comment. All you whiners out there about internet radio and other bullshit, take a hike. You don't know how good you had it under a Republican administration. All of what you have came during the last eight years. Watch your Democrats come in and add laws, taxes and more royalties to your already overtaxed industries. I guarantee you that your Democratic VP Joe Biden will make sure anyone that plays music will pay through the nose. The music business is LIBERAL by the way NOT CONSERVATIVE. Vote for John McCain.

Anonymous said...

i think we are getting carried away with political rhetoric and running short on the facts.

joe biden is trying to protect everyone's royalty rights. The actors, the producers, directors, all the way to the film companies and distributors. all deserve to be paid.

he is doing the same for the recording industry.

what biden may not understand is that the labels do have a reputation of short changing their artists.

book publishers do that to their authors, too. john, you have a book out. how are your royalty checks?

the fact is that biden's intentions are right and he cannot be held responsible for following the letter of the law. what he is doing supports everyone's rights to get paid for performance.

perhaps biden should sever ties with the riaa. more importantly there should be a congressional investigation (unless the fbi is already doing one) into the way labels do business and handle their royalties.

i agree that radio and internet streams should not be taxed by the labels and agree that they should be given time to develop. your comparison to internet commerce is very fair.

in closing, let us give joe biden a chance. he is a good man, a solid choice for vice president and a foreign affairs expert. vote obama in november.

Anonymous said...

Obama's rewrite of copyright rules could also fall into favor for the RIAA and once again leave the artists, songwriters and others in the lurch. It is up to the artists, the independent streaming audio operators and others to get their message across to the Obama-Biden operatives and call for a change. I am fearful that the end result of rewrites and changes in the copyright laws will hurt the performer even more than the existing laws do today. Why the RIAA has not been investigated is beyond me and not by the FBI but by Interpol. They are all multinational labels and can bury profits and royalty payments due with ease. 95 percent is a good reason for an investigation into the RIAA and the label practices.

Anonymous said...

Don't take this the wrong way. I think both the radio industry and the radio industry were better run when the Jews ran them. Everyone that bought their way in are not business men. Look at Sony (Japanese), Warners (Canadian). Universal (France). Before you had to work hard and reap rewards while today family fortunes buy their way into the business. It is not Joe Biden's fault. Blame those running the labels. Biden is trying to make a buck like anyone else.

Anonymous said...

Don't take this the wrong way. I think both the radio industry and the radio industry were better run when the Jews ran them. Everyone that bought their way in are not business men. Look at Sony (Japanese), Warners (Canadian). Universal (France). Before you had to work hard and reap rewards while today family fortunes buy their way into the business. It is not Joe Biden's fault. Blame those running the labels. Biden is trying to make a buck like anyone else.

Anonymous said...

John, My opinion on the matter is that you did bring it up at the right time. This becomes a topic that Sen. Joe Biden should address to those who are interested in this topic. The music business is a multi-billion dollar business. You may hear record labels cry about sales but iTunes is doing a brisk business in selling downloads. The labels found new revenue in ring tones. They have soundtracks, TV shows and commercials to pitch their music on in addition to radio, both terrestrial and internet. They are NOT hurting. For that reason, Sen. Biden should come clean and reveal his relationship with the RIAA. It may be as simple as trying to protect artist rights or it may be that the RIAA is funding him. Whatever the case may be it should be brought out into the open and anyone interested in the Senator's views should contact his political campaign and demand answers to these questions. If it takes showing them your blog, Hanson's and C/Net's so be it. Right now "Change" is just a slogan. We need to make it a reality and confront Sen. Biden on where he stands on this matter. Internet radio is new democracy. It is not governed by the FCC or DOJ or FTC. For that reason alone internet radio should be allowed to develop freely. We are America. Thank you for reading.

There's a RIAA-t going on said...

This is from the BoycottRIAA.com site. Very detailed:
Joe Biden's pro-RIAA, pro-FBI tech voting record
Posted by Mike (Shmoo) on August 24, 2008 at 8:35 PM Posted by Declan McCullagh

By choosing Joe Biden as their vice presidential candidate, the Democrats have selected a politician with a mixed record on technology who has spent most of his Senate career allied with the FBI and copyright holders, who ranks toward the bottom of CNET's Technology Voters' Guide, and whose anti-privacy legislation was actually responsible for the creation of PGP.

That's probably okay with Barack Obama: Biden likely got the nod because of his foreign policy knowledge. The Delaware politician is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee who voted for the war in Iraq, and is reasonably well-known nationally after his presidential campaigns in 1988 and 2008.

But back to the Delaware senator's tech record. After taking over the Foreign Relations committee, Biden became a staunch ally of Hollywood and the recording industry in their efforts to expand copyright law. He sponsored a bill in 2002 that would have make it a federal felony to trick certain types of devices into playing unauthorized music or executing unapproved computer programs. Biden's bill was backed by content companies including News Corp. but eventually died after Verizon, Microsoft, Apple, eBay, and Yahoo lobbied against it.

Sen. Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic vice presidential nominee, whose anti-encryption legislation was responsible for the creation of PGP.
(Credit: Biden.senate.gov)

A few months later, Biden signed a letter that urged the Justice Department "to prosecute individuals who intentionally allow mass copying from their computer over peer-to-peer networks." Critics of this approach said that the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America, and not taxpayers, should pay for their own lawsuits.

Last year, Biden sponsored an RIAA-backed bill called the Perform Act aimed at restricting Americans' ability to record and play back individual songs from satellite and Internet radio services. (The RIAA sued XM Satellite Radio over precisely this point.)

All of which meant that nobody in Washington was surprised when Biden was one of only four U.S. senators invited to a champagne reception in celebration of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act hosted by the MPAA's Jack Valenti, the RIAA, and the Business Software Alliance. (Photos are here.)

Now, it's true that few Americans will cast their votes in November based on what the vice presidential candidate thinks of copyright law. But these pro-copyright views don't exactly jibe with what Obama has promised; he's pledged to "update and reform our copyright and patent systems to promote civic discourse, innovation and investment while ensuring that intellectual property owners are fairly treated." These are code words for taking a more pro-EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) than pro-MPAA approach.

Unfortunately, Biden has steadfastly refused to answer questions on the topic. We asked him 10 tech-related questions, including whether he'd support rewriting the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, as part of our 2008 Technology Voters' guide. Biden would not answer (we did hear back from Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Ron Paul).

In our 2006 Technology Voters' Guide, which ranked Senate votes from July 1998 through May 2005, Biden received a mere 37.5 percent score because of his support for Internet filters in schools and libraries and occasional support for Internet taxes.

Privacy, the FBI, and PGP
On privacy, Biden's record is hardly stellar. In the 1990s, Biden was chairman of the Judiciary Committee and introduced a bill called the Comprehensive Counter-Terrorism Act, which the EFF says he was "persuaded" to do by the FBI. A second Biden bill was called the Violent Crime Control Act. Both were staunchly anti-encryption, with this identical language:

It is the sense of Congress that providers of electronic communications services and manufacturers of electronic communications service equipment shall ensure that communications systems permit the government to obtain the plain text contents of voice, data, and other communications when appropriately authorized by law.

Translated, that means turn over your encryption keys. The book Electronic Privacy Papers describes Biden's bill as representing the FBI's visible effort to restrict encryption technology, which was taking place in concert with the National Security Agency's parallel, but less visible efforts. (Biden was no foe of the NSA. He once described now-retired NSA director Bobby Ray Inman as the "single most competent man in the government.")

Biden's bill -- and the threat of encryption being outlawed -- is what spurred Phil Zimmermann to write PGP, thereby kicking off a historic debate about export controls, national security, and privacy. Zimmermann, who's now busy developing Zfone, says it was Biden's legislation "that led me to publish PGP electronically for free that year, shortly before the measure was defeated after vigorous protest by civil libertarians and industry groups."

While neither of Biden's pair of bills became law, they did foreshadow the FBI's pro-wiretapping, anti-encryption legislative strategy that followed -- and demonstrated that the Delaware senator was willing to be a reliable ally of law enforcement on the topic. (They also previewed the FBI's legislative proposal later that decade for banning encryption products such as SSH or PGP without government backdoors, which was approved by one House of Representatives committee but never came to a vote in the Senate.)

"Joe Biden made his second attempt to introduce such legislation" in the form of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which was also known as the Digital Telephony law, according to an account in Wired magazine. Biden at the time was chairman of the relevant committee; he co-sponsored the Senate version and dutifully secured a successful floor vote on it less than two months after it was introduced. CALEA became law in October 1994, and is still bedeviling privacy advocates: the FBI recently managed to extend its requirements to Internet service providers.

CALEA represented one step in the FBI and NSA's attempts to restrict encryption without backdoors. In a top-secret memo to members of President George H.W. Bush's administration including Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and CIA director Robert Gates, one White House official wrote: "Justice should go ahead now to seek a legislative fix to the digital telephony problem, and all parties should prepare to follow through on the encryption problem in about a year. Success with digital telephony will lock in one major objective; we will have a beachhead we can exploit for the encryption fix; and the encryption access options can be developed more thoroughly in the meantime."

There's another reason why Biden's legislative tactics in the CALEA scrum amount to more than a mere a footnote in Internet history. They're what led to the creation of the Center for Democracy and Technology -- and the Electronic Frontier Foundation's simultaneous implosion and soul-searching.

EFF staffers Jerry Berman and Danny Weitzner chose to work with Biden on cutting a deal and altering the bill in hopes of obtaining privacy concessions. It may have helped, but it also left the EFF in the uncomfortable position of leaving its imprimatur on Biden's FBI-backed wiretapping law universally loathed by privacy advocates. The debacle ended with internal turmoil, Berman and Weitzner leaving the group and taking their corporate backers to form CDT, and a chastened EFF that quietly packed its bags and moved to its current home in San Francisco. (Weitzner, who was responsible for a censorship controversy last year, became a formal Obama campaign surrogate.)

"Anti-terror" legislation
The next year, months before the Oklahoma City bombing took place, Biden introduced another bill called the Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995. It previewed the 2001 Patriot Act by allowing secret evidence to be used in prosecutions, expanding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and wiretap laws, creating a new federal crime of "terrorism" that could be invoked based on political beliefs, permitting the U.S. military to be used in civilian law enforcement, and allowing permanent detection of non-U.S. citizens without judicial review. The Center for National Security Studies said the bill would erode "constitutional and statutory due process protections" and would "authorize the Justice Department to pick and choose crimes to investigate and prosecute based on political beliefs and associations."

Biden himself draws parallels between his 1995 bill and its 2001 cousin. "I drafted a terrorism bill after the Oklahoma City bombing. And the bill John Ashcroft sent up was my bill," he said when the Patriot Act was being debated, according to the New Republic, which described him as "the Democratic Party's de facto spokesman on the war against terrorism."

Biden's chronology is not accurate: the bombing took place in April 1995 and his bill had been introduced in February 1995. But it's true that Biden's proposal probably helped to lay the groundwork for the Bush administration's Patriot Act.

In 1996, Biden voted to keep intact an ostensibly anti-illegal immigration bill that outlined what the Real ID Act would become almost a decade later. The bill would create a national worker identification registry; Biden voted to kill an Abraham-Feingold amendment that would have replaced the registry with stronger enforcement. According to an analysis by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the underlying bill would have required "states to place Social Security numbers on drivers licenses and to obtain fingerprints or some other form of biometric identification for licenses."

Along with most of his colleagues in the Congress -- including Sen. John McCain but not Rep. Ron Paul -- Biden voted for the Patriot Act and the Real ID Act (which was part of a larger spending bill). Obama voted for the bill containing the Real ID Act, but wasn't in the U.S. Senate in 2001 when the original Patriot Act vote took place.

Patriot Act
In the Senate debate over the Patriot Act in October 2001, Biden once again allied himself closely with the FBI. The Justice Department favorably quotes Biden on its Web site as saying: "The FBI could get a wiretap to investigate the mafia, but they could not get one to investigate terrorists. To put it bluntly, that was crazy! What's good for the mob should be good for terrorists."

The problem is that Biden's claim was simply false -- which he should have known after a decade of experience lending his name to wiretapping bills on behalf of the FBI. As CDT explains in a rebuttal to Biden: "The Justice Department had the ability to use wiretaps, including roving taps, in criminal investigations of terrorism, just as in other criminal investigations, long before the Patriot Act."

But Biden's views had become markedly less FBI-friendly by April 2007, six years later. By then, the debate over wiretapping had become sharply partisan, pitting Democrats seeking to embarrass President Bush against Republicans aiming to defend the administration at nearly any cost. In addition, Biden had announced his presidential candidacy three months earlier and was courting liberal activists dismayed by the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping.

That month, Biden slammed the "president's illegal wiretapping program that allows intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on the conversations of Americans without a judge's approval or congressional authorization or oversight." He took aim at Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for allowing the FBI to "flagrantly misuse National Security Letters" -- even though it was the Patriot Act that greatly expanded their use without also expanding internal safeguards and oversight as well.

Biden did vote against a FISA bill with retroactive immunity for any telecommunications provider that illegally opened its network to the National Security Agency; Obama didn't. Both agreed to renew the Patriot Act in March 2006, a move that pro-privacy Democrats including Ron Wyden and Russ Feingold opposed. The ACLU said the renewal "fails to correct the most flawed provisions" of the original Patriot Act. (Biden does do well on the ACLU's congressional scorecard.)

"Baby-food bombs"
The ACLU also had been at odds with Biden over his efforts to censor bomb-making information on the Internet. One day after a bomb in Saudi Arabia killed several U.S. servicemen and virtually flattened a military base, Biden pushed to make posting bomb-making information on the Internet a felony, punishable by up to 20 years in jail, the Wall Street Journal reported at the time.

"I think most Americans would be absolutely shocked if they knew what kind of bone-chilling information is making its way over the Internet," he told the Senate. "You can access detailed, explicit instructions on how to make and detonate pipe bombs, light-bulb bombs, and even -- if you can believe it -- baby-food bombs."

Biden didn't get exactly what he wanted -- at least not right away. His proposal was swapped in the final law for one requiring the attorney general to investigate "the extent to which the First Amendment protects such material and its private and commercial distribution." The report was duly produced, concluding that the proposal "can withstand constitutional muster in most, if not all, of its possible applications, if such legislation is slightly modified."

It was. Biden and co-sponsor Dianne Feinstein introduced their bill again the following year. Biden pitched it as an anti-terror measure, saying in a floor debate that numerous terrorists "have been found in possession of bomb-making manuals and Internet bomb-making information." He added: "What is even worse is that some of these instructions are geared toward kids. They tell kids that all the ingredients they need are right in their parents' kitchen or laundry cabinets."

Biden's proposal became law in 1997. It didn't amount to much: four years after its enactment, there had been only one conviction. And instead of being used to snare a dangerous member of Al Qaeda, the law was used to lock up a 20-year old anarchist Webmaster who was sentenced to one year in prison for posting information about Molotov cocktails and "Drano bombs" on his Web site, Raisethefist.com.

Today there are over 10,000 hits on Google for the phrase, in quotes, "Drano bomb." One is a video that lists the necessary ingredients and shows some self-described rednecks blowing up small plastic bottles in their yard. Then there's the U.S. Army's Improvised Munitions Handbook with instructions on making far more deadly compounds, including methyl nitrate dynamite, mortars, grenades, and C-4 plastic explosive -- which free speech activists placed online as an in-your-face response to the Biden-Feinstein bill.

Peer-to-peer networks
Since then, Biden has switched from complaining about Internet baby-food bombs to taking aim at peer-to-peer networks. He held one Foreign Relations committee hearing in February 2002 titled "Theft of American Intellectual Property" and invited executives from the Justice Department, RIAA, MPAA, and Microsoft to speak. Not one Internet company, P2P network, or consumer group was invited to testify.

Afterwards, Sharman Networks (which distributes Kazaa) wrote a letter to Biden complaining about "one-sided and unsubstantiated attacks" on P2P networks. It said: "We are deeply offended by the gratuitous accusations made against Kazaa by witnesses before the committee, including ludicrous attempts to associate an extremely beneficial, next-generation software program with organized criminal gangs and even terrorist organizations."

Biden returned to the business of targeting P2P networks this year. In April, he proposed spending $1 billion in U.S. tax dollars so police can monitor peer-to-peer networks for illegal activity. He made that suggestion after a Wyoming cop demonstrated a proof-of-concept program called "Operation Fairplay" at a hearing before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee.

A month later, the Senate Judiciary committee approved a Biden-sponsored bill that would spend over $1 billion on policing illegal Internet activity, mostly child pornography. It has the dubious virtue of being at least partially redundant: One section would "prohibit the broadcast of live images of child abuse," even though the Justice Department has experienced no problems in securing guilty pleas for underage Webcamming. (The bill has not been voted on by the full Senate.)

Online sales of Robitussin
Around the same time, Biden introduced his self-described Biden Crime Bill of 2007. One section expands electronic surveillance law to permit police wiretaps in "crimes dangerous to the life, limb, and well-being of minor children." Another takes aim at Internet-based telemedicine and online pharmacies, saying that physicians must have conducted "at least one in-person medical evaluation of the patient" to prescribe medicine.

Another prohibits selling a product containing dextromethorphan -- including Robitussin, Sucrets, Dayquil, and Vicks -- "to an individual under the age of 18 years, including any such sale using the Internet." It gives the Justice Department six months to come up with regulations, which include when retailers should be fined for shipping cough suppressants to children. (Biden is a longtime drug warrior; he authored the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act that the Bush administration used to shut down benefit concerts.)

Net neutrality
On Net neutrality, Biden has sounded skeptical. In 2006, he indicated that no preemptive laws were necessary because if violations do happen, such a public outcry will develop that "the chairman will be required to hold this meeting in this largest room in the Capitol, and there will be lines wandering all the way down to the White House." Obama, on the other hand, has been a strong supporter of handing pre-emptive regulatory authority to the Federal Communications Commission.

Anonymous said...

Nice. you couldnt wait until after Biden's speech to dis him?

Anonymous said...

You once suggested that internet radio stations and the NAB should team up to confront the RIAA. What ever became of that? I thought that was a brilliant idea. Not because the NAB can accomplish anything but a little bit of solidarity from two separate entities would go a long way.

Anonymous said...

Pandora = grandstand play?

I hear he made $25 million. Even if he had to pay half that he is making an incredible profit. He doesn't have an airstaff, a transmitter, license fees and all the other expenses a radio station has to pay.

In all fairness I agree with the five to six % range. No one should have to turn half their profits over to the RIAA. The artists will never see the $$$$.

Anonymous said...

The RIAA could not care less if Biden is taken off their beat by Obama. They will find another senator to put their hooks into. There are few bribes better and untracable than a best seats in the house pair of tickets. The RIAA will do whatever it takes to protect their sweetheart deals. DId anyone catch the fact that Hilary Rosen who used to run the RIAA when Clinton was president is now a "Democratic activist"?

Anonymous said...

are you in favor of illegal downloads, no royalties paid, etc. sure sounds like it

Truth Man said...

Biden will not to the radio industry or internet radio any favors. On the contrary.

He is Mister PAC. He never met a lobbyist he didn't like.

MBNA owns him. The scum of credit cards. Lerner owned him, now Bank of America does.

His former spokesperson Larry Rasky has strong ties to a lobby group.

He also took money from a
Refinance.com, a mortgage company.

He's taken $119,000 from registered lobbyists during the presidential primary

Anonymous said...

John, Points well taken. It is up to those who have interests in radio and streaming audio to take these issues up with the Obama-Biden camp. Do it through your congressperson if you have to. On the whole Biden is a decent man. His relationship with the crime bosses at the RIAA does concern me. Rather than attack Biden (which I am not accusing you of. You did state the facts.) he must be reeducated on the RIAA's true tactics. I believe that Obama-Biden is a good move for the radio industry. Perhaps not Clear Channel or CBS which are both in the GOP camp but for smaller owners-operators that will begin to appear and reappear as the big boys are forced to shed their excess to smaller groups that can best run these stations.

Anonymous said...

If Biden is VP he's out as Senator and unless the RIAA gets their claws in his replacement they will lose one of their supporters.

Obama has much larger issues to deal with for Biden. I doubt the RIAA will play a key role in that admininstration.

I won't underestimate the RIAA which even used the Patriot Act in an attempt to catch those rascally downloaders.

The issue at hand is that the U.S. government is not in the business of saving the record labels. They are victims of their own greed and mistrust. They don't know how to treat their customers. They even destroy the very acts that provide them revenue.

It is the RIAA that should be investigated not some college kid downloading a highly compressed hissy-sounding Metallica advance.

Anonymous said...

John, Thank you for mentioning the RIAA matter. When I read Inside Radio this morning which made mention of the RIAA in full force at the DNC it sent a chill up my spine. The second chill came from the NAB getting the Black Eyed Pies to perform for them. My question to Mr. David "Fumbles" Rehr (and I'm afraid I already know the answer) is "Did you just hire the Black Eyed Peas to play at a NAB function - or are they really in on radio's side?" My guess is that as soon as they play that gig, they will be backing the RIAA. "Fumbles" doesn't think. The top name bands will get royalties. They are too big and too powerful not to. How about the NAB getting acts to perform that aren't in the NAB's top 50 or those who deliberately severed ties with their labels?

Anonymous said...

Here's the decision for Gorman fans: If you vote for Obama, you get Biden. But you also get rid of Kevin Martin. What's more important? Biden, who loves the RIAA, or Martin who loves consolidation? So now what do you do? One guy likes big record labels, the other likes big radio. Seems like you're screwed either way.

Anonymous said...

Not to change the subject, but what's going on with HD Radio? The head of the Alliance has stepped down, says everything's going very well, and says it's up to the stations now to take over. At the same time I hear Radio Shack has discontinued carrying HD Radio due to poor sales, but that item was on a message board so I'm not 100% sure of it's accuracy.

Does anyone know what's going on?

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