Creative Unions Signal It's Time to Consider Regulating Edge

Add the major creative unions to those taking aim at online providers as the new gatekeepers in need of government scrutiny: Studios and other content creators are said to be on the same page when it comes to looking hard at edge provider conduct, particularly around copyright issues.

For years ISPs were the snakes in the virtual garden, while edge providers maintained a garage-innovator aura. But fake news, Russian election meddling, sex trafficking, privacy and other issues, as well as the natural maturing of successful companies into power players, has widened the net to include a new set of FANGs -- Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google.

In the wake of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica hearings last week with Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, The Directors Guild of America, SAG-AFTRA and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees have told Congress it is time for an "edge" of reckoning as it were.

"We couldn’t agree more that the time for a national conversation about accountability for online gatekeepers is now," the heads of those unions wrote in a joint letter to the chairs and ranking members of the relevant Congressional oversight committees. "We must delve into frank discussions about unintended consequences, and how they can be addressed. Our future depends on it."

Related: Privacy on the Edge: Legislators Questions.

Together the unions represent more than 300,000 members, and their message to Washington was clear: The days of the edge getting a pass on regulatory scrutiny, and potential action, should be over.

"Originally meant to drive innovation, the early ground rules governing the internet were deliberately lax to encourage the experimentation deemed necessary for the growth of what was then a fledgling medium," they said.

But the unions signaled that the fledgling had grown up, and grown some talons. "[W]ith market valuations that now dwarf the GDPs of entire nations, today’s Silicon Valley giants have the resources and capabilities to abide by the norms that apply to other corporations," the unions wrote.

The unions were particularly focused on copyright safe harbors for internet companies that shielded them from liability.

"Our members – armies of creators, performers, skilled craftspeople and workers who often dedicate weeks, months, even years of their lives to a single feature film or television series – have been among those hit hardest," they said.

"We are also concerned about the massive privacy violations and threats that have been unleashed, particularly on performers and broadcasters, which are at record highs," they added. "Despite the fact that leading online players have matured into massive global companies, the rules still haven’t changed."

Coming out of the Zuckerberg hearings last week, it was clear that both Democrats and Republicans were ready to have a conversation about edge regulation. The creative unions are ready to sit down at that table.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.