The rock band Pearl Jam was censored at this year’s Lollapalooza festival. Or it was merely mistakenly edited. It depends on who is telling the story. Music promoters C3 Presents had contracted with the ATT blue room music site, which streamed the video to thousands of music-hungry music worshippers. So far, so good. But on August 5th, as the blue room webcast of Pearl Jam’s Lollapalooza appearance streamed along, something odd happened. The audio dropped out for a bit, just as singer Eddie Vedder let his political sentiments be known: “George Bush: Leave this world alone!” As you might imagine, the response from the blogosphere was swift and merciless. ATT jumped into damage control mode and insisted at first that the mistake was made by Davey Brown Entertainment, the vendor in charge of producing the webcasts. But then it surfaced that this wasn’t the first time an ATT blue room webcast had political speech excised. ATT fessed up
It’s not our intent to edit political comments in webcasts on attblueroom.com. Unfortunately, it has happened in the past in a handful of cases. We have taken steps to ensure that it won’t happen again.
The revelation that not one but multiple webcasts were censored in this way has been like mana from heaven for Save the Internet and other Net Neutrality groups. When I first heard about the Eddie Vedder incident, I thought the reaction was a bit over the top. Perhaps one of the video editors misunderstood the policy on editing out foul language. Perhaps that video editor’s supervisor did too. But it does seem odd that a company which makes its money streaming webcasts of live music events like Lollapalooza wouldn’t know that there would be political invective sprinkled in with the occasional expletive. It seems odder still that such a company (whether Davey Brown Entertainment or ATT) wouldn’t take a moment to think about the consequences of editing the speech of Vedder, who is well-known for his political activism. It is also raises questions about the webcasting contract signed by the musicians. Wired’s Listening Post blog has a copy of what is supposedly a “recording release”, shown as proof that there was no “censorship clause” in the contract, but it appears to be an inducement to contract, rather than an actual contract form. It is hard for me to believe that a global webcast reaching over 100,000 viewers wouldn’t have a contract with at least some small print. Net Neutrality advocates have in the past focused on the ability of telecommunications carriers to shape packet traffic to their economic advantage. Now they are saying that the same carriers can and do filter traffic on the basis of the message being conveyed. But assuming there was no contractual notice that ATT would be censoring political speech in its blue room webcasts, isn’t this the sort of thing that artists can handle effectively through contract enforcement? Whether ATT was lax or trying to be sneaky, either way it just shot itself in the foot. There’s no shortage of competitors in the webcasting market, and they must be hurriedly putting together marketing plans with taglines like, “We Won’t Censor Your Content!”