To the Recording Industry Association of America, Sarah Norman is a notorious music pirate. However, Norman doesn't rely on Gnutella, Kazaa or even FreeNet to distribute popular songs by Dave Matthews Band or Phish. Instead, Sarah uses a communications medium often overlooked when it comes to the illicit distribution of music.
"American Sign Language is just one of the many new battlegrounds in the fight against music piracy," says James Leeds, music piracy expert and author of the "Song Swappers Of A Lesser God" white paper, considered to be the "blueprint" for the fight against the growing number of deaf mutes distributing songs by John Mellencamp, Peter Gabriel and Korn. "We refer to it as the 'silent epidemic.'"
Leeds contends that Norman's daily practice of signing songs by Aimee Mann and Widespread Panic while walking through midtown Manhattan has resulted in the illicit distribution of millions of copyrighted works. "Just because you can't hear it," says Leeds, "Doesn't mean it isn't happening."
But the RIAA's efforts to stamp out the piracy of songs that no one can hear is only one of many new strategies for eliminating unauthorized duplication of intellectual property. They are also researching how "cerebral" methods of piracy have resulted in the massive distribution of songs by such acts as Earshot and Point Of Grace."
"Have you ever experienced one of those moments when you can't get a song out of your mind?" asks Dr. T.M. Kreskin, of the Secure Mental Distribution Initiative (SMDI). "We're working on a method to eliminate the unauthorized mental reproduction of songs, while at the same time provide a secure method of distribution that will ensure payment to the artists. In short, if you want to hum, sing, or even mentally reproduce, mix or edit songs by The Beautiful Mistake or Mudvayne, you'll have to pay for it."
Ah, yes, "Pay for it." The RIAA has enjoyed great success in convincing the courts to levy huge fines in civil decisions against people proven to have violated the copyrights of Prince and Red Hot Chili Peppers. However, litigation is only one step in the ongoing war against piracy.
Located 350 miles north of San Francisco and nestled on the shores of a man-made inlet, Metallica Bay Penitentiary is the most secure, the most frightening of America's penal institutes. It is here that the Digital Millennium Copyright and Torture Act calls for prisoners convicted of pirating songs by artists like Riddlin Kids and B.B. King, to be stripped of their constitutional rights as well as their ISP connections, PDAs and cell phones. Although the prison's commandant, Col. Lars Ulrich, refused to answer allegations that prisoners are subjected to deep psychological reconditioning by the 24/7 piping of the complete works of JohnTesh into every cell, his right hand man, Sgt. James "Shultzie" Hetfield went on record, saying, "I hear nothing! I see nothing! I know nothing!"
Coming up later this week: Should Congress levy a copyright tax, or will the proposed legislation forcing compulsory eardrum mutilation of all freshmen college students be enough to prevent the piracy of songs by top recording stars such as Elton John or Neil Diamond? Stay tuned.