COMMENTARY: Hijacking Black Media to Undermine Musicians’ Rights

Melvin Gibbs

Traditional media has a long history of neglecting the Black community and an equally long history of refusing to give us a fair hearing or equal time.  To be heard, African Americans created media outlets like this one—and in its storied history, the Black press has spoken truth to power as “soldiers without swords” in the fight for racial justice.

But now that we’ve built these powerful channels of communication, we must continue to protect them from the special interests who use the credibility of our media to advance their own agendas and mislead our communities.

That’s why we are speaking out, to address recent stories in Black media outlets making the bogus claim that an important artists’ rights bill making its way through Congress is an attack on the first Black Librarian of Congress designed to give President Trump new powers.

This is disinformation being pushed by technology special interests hoping to wrap themselves in the struggle and sacrifice of our community while hiding their efforts to weaken the rights of musicians and other creators – an attempt at a money grab using our movement and its history.

The bill in question has nothing to do with race or civil justice at all.  It is about strengthening creators’ rights and acknowledging the importance of copyright by making the nation’s chief copyright officer a position nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate–just like the heads of the Patent Office, the FCC, and other important agencies.

This idea has been under consideration for more than four years – at a time when most everyone thought Hillary Clinton would be President, not Trump.  It is not directed at the current Librarian of Congress – an African-American woman whose race is being exploited to support bogus claims that the bill undermines civil rights because it would move the power to appoint the nation’s top copyright expert from the Librarian to the President working with Congressional leaders.  It is important to remember that when this proposal was first put in motion, the Librarian was a white woman and Barack Obama was President – would it have been a civil rights triumph then, or was it just then, as now, the legislature and executive branch properly doing their appointed jobs?

Of course, that’s what is was, and until now no one has suggested the reverse.

Fortunately, these cynical and false arguments (absurdly prosecuted by a Congresswoman from Silicon Valley representing a district that is 2.8 percent African American) failed to derail the legislation. The bill passed the House of Representatives 378-48 with broad bipartisan support, led by Civil Rights titans such as Representatives John Conyers, the driving force behind the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day federal holiday, John Lewis, the hero of Selma, and Maxine Waters, who stands second to no one in holding Donald Trump to account.

But the record must still be set straight.  When this fiction found its way into the halls of Congress, I wrote to the Congressional Black Caucus along with Ernie Isley, William Bell, Nona Hendryx, Ramsey Jones, Darrell McNeill, and V Jeffrey Smith.  Cynics hijacking the power of the civil rights movement to support their narrow economic goals do violence to the movement and dishonor the sacrifice of all who came before.  And it is just as gross for bill opponents to ride the powerful coattails of the “RESIST” movement by falsely wrapping this bipartisan pro-artist, proposal in the controversies surrounding the President, especially in light of his proposal for massive cuts to funding for the arts. Misleading the President’s critics by leveraging fear into opposition for a non-controversial proposal like this ultimately undermines and disrespects our RESIST movement.

And we weren’t alone. American Black Film Festival Founder Jeff Friday also wrote a letter supporting the bill, as did the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council.

No one needs to tell us racial injustice is a serious lasting problem in this country or that the presidency has taken a disturbing turn, but we won’t stand for anyone trying to appropriate our struggles and fights for their own corporate political purposes.

And we won’t sit by while anyone appropriates the mighty Black press, our bastion of the truth, to smear and lie in service of their corporate aims.

Melvin Gibbs is the President of the Content Creators Coalition. He is an award-winning American bassist, composer, and producer who has appeared on close to 200 albums.

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