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Censoring Pearl Jam: A call to save the Internet

Online Journal | August 22, 2007
Joshua Frank

Seattle-based Pearl Jam has accused AT&T of censoring lead singer Eddie Vedder during a live webcast of the band's Lollapalooza show on August 5, which was provided online as part of AT&T's “Blue Room” concert series.

Vedder, performing a cover of Pink Floyd's “Another Brick in the Wall,” included the following substitute lyrics that he repeated a number of times:

“George Bush, leave this world alone.
“George Bush find yourself another home.”

Fans who tuned in to the Pearl Jam performance didn't hear all of Vedder's lyrics, as the sound cut out after the front man sang the first line the first time around. In a statement from the band on their official website, Pearl Jam condemned AT&T for censoring Vedder's politically charged message: “This, of course, troubles us as artists but also as citizens concerned with the issue of censorship and the increasingly consolidated control of the media.

”AT&T's actions strike at the heart of the public's concerns over the power that corporations have when it comes to determining what the public sees and hears through communications media . . .

“If a company that is controlling a webcast is cutting out bits of our performance -- not based on laws, but on their own preferences and interpretations -- fans have little choice but to watch the censored version.

”What happened to us this weekend was a wake up call, and it's about something much bigger than the censorship of a rock band.”

AT&T denied axing Vedder's lyrics and instead laid blame on a third-party vendor:

“The editing of the Pearl Jam performance on Sunday night was not intended, but rather a mistake by a webcast vendor and contrary to our policy. We have policies in place with respect to editing excessive profanity, but AT&T does not edit or censor performances. We have that policy in place because the blue room is not age-restricted.

“We regret the mistake and are trying to work with the band to post the song in its entirety.”

Despite AT&T's claim that they do not “edit or censor performances,” the incident with Pearl Jam is a clear indication of what could happen if web neutrality laws are not passed by Congress. The proponents of Net Neutrality want to protect the Internet and keep it in the hands of individuals, not corporations. The Bad Guys in this profit motivated game want to control the web and put it in the hands of big telecommunication corporations like AT&T. Now, it's not that black and white of an issue, but for the most part the Bad Guys are looking to gain more, while the Good Guys (Google, Amazon.com, who will continue to prosper by a deregulated Internet) want to protect what they already have.

Right now the debate is heating up with a vote likely to come down in the near future over the future of the net. A lot of elected representatives have not come out one way or another on this important issue. In the days ahead if we abandon Net Neutrality and a telecom bigwig, shareholders, or a board of directors decide websites such as this one aren't worth putting on his company's search engine, or provider package, it could be lost.

The telecom giants very well could decide what is and what isn't available to be viewed on the Internet and could censor content front Pearl Jam or anyone else anytime they please. They could also price the little guys out of the market. They want to be Wal-Mart of the web. They want to control the content and pick what we can see, read or listen to.

There is quite an underhanded campaign going on by Net Neutrality opponents, called “Hands off the Internet,” who claim to want to protect the Internet from regulators and Big Government. In the past year, they have even run deceptive ads on blogs and other websites in hopes of pulling Internet readers into their camp. Some of the big names behind these cunning ploys include AT&T, BellSouth, and Verizon.

Co-chair of this group is the ex-spokesman for President Bill Clinton and other Democrats, Mike McCurry who writes an occasional column at the Huffington Post. McCurry claims Net Neutrality will kill the Internet.

Fact is Net Neutrality is what has gotten us this far. Yet McCurry writes, “The Internet is not a free public good. It is a bunch of wires and switches and connections and pipes and it is creaky. You all worship at Vince Cerf who has a clear financial interest in the outcome of this debate but you immediately castigate all of us who disagree and impugn our motives. I get paid a reasonable but small sum to argue what I believe.”

So how much does this guy get paid? Well, not sure how much the big telecom giants are dolling out, but McCurry charges $10,000 and up per speaking gig, so it's likely he's bankrolled by the telecommunications industry. Hands off the Internet wants to destroy the web just like the radio goliaths have killed the airwaves.

When you turn on your TV there aren't thousands of channels at your disposal. That's because you have to pay for those channels, they aren't free -- even though you supposedly own the airwaves. The same thing could happen to the Internet if guys like McCurry have their way. You'd have to pay for access to the web and each carrier would have much different ideas about what the “web” is. There would be different packages and different sites available per package. Much like cable vs. DirectTV. It would radically change the way the web functions and, in the process, it would likely leave out alternative blogs and news sites -- as they would have to pony up big bucks to have access to consumers. Even if they did, they might not make the cut. Somebody else could decide if it's a site worth your time or interest.

The Internet is a work in progress, spearheaded by innovative and creative people, not big corporations like the censor-happy AT&T. Let's protect it.

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