AT&T Censors Pearl Jam

Last weekend, AT&T delivered a live stream of Lollapalooza performances on its Blue Room website. Unfortunately, during Pearl Jam’s set, they muted some politically charged lyrics. Pearl Jam is outraged, and AT&T is backtracking and blaming the company they hired to provide the feed:

“[The muting was] a major mistake by a webcast vendor and completely contrary to our policy. We are working closely with the vendor and the band to post the song in its entirety on this site and ensure that this does not happen again.”

Pearl Jam, known for taking strong public stands on political and market issues, published the following on their website and are using the incident as an example of why we need net neutrality:

“This 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.”

Resources: www.pearljam.com

AT&T Silences Pearl Jam; Gives ‘Net Neutrality’ Proponents Ammunition [Forbes]

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Update
Several readers have correctly pointed out that net neutrality is not about either free speech or corporate censorship. Net neutrality specifically refers to the concept of an open network, one free of restrictions on the type of equipment used on it or the mode of communication. In practical terms, net neutrality is concerned with protecting the “last mile” of residential broadband networks so that individual ISPs can’t block services or technology wholesale, without allowing for competition.

Instances such as the Pearl Jam censorship, even if they are accidental as AT&T says, serve as easy ammunition for net neutrality proponents because they remind consumers of how corporations and free speech don’t always mix. AT&T is not obligated to give Pearl Jam an open platform to speak politically; the fear, however, is that if companies like AT&T controlled the last mile, they could effectively stamp out any competition–and then they could control what the customer watches, hears, or reads. The Pearl Jam incident is a weak argument since AT&T was the commercial sponsor of the webcast, but because censorship is such an emotional topic, we’re not surprised it’s being used. (And because it’s being used, weak or not, the tag “net neutrality” remains valid.)

We’re sure some readers have far more knowledge about this topic than we do, and we invite them to elaborate on the topic or politely correct us in the comments below.

Resources:
Wikipedia entry on network neutrality
ACLU page that explains some net neutrality issues in plain English
Public Knowledge Net Neutrality White Paper
3-minute video explaining net neutrality

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(Photo: Getty)

Comments

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  1. axiomatic says:

    AT&T makes me feel all “stabby.” Like as in, “I want to stab.”

  2. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    If this happened a few years ago, back when Bill Mahr and the Dixie Chicks got a lot of flack for making comments about Bush, then this could kinda be expected. But now, when it is almos trendy to bash Bush, I find it hard to believe that any company would go out of their way to censor such lyrics. I do believe it happened, but it seems a bit rediculous.

  3. ColdNorth says:

    Hmmmm…. I wonder if AT&T is thinking about entering the electronic voting machine business? 2008 is coming sooner than you think!

  4. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    Go get’em Eddie!

  5. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    @ColdNorth:

    I don’t know how they could possibly compete with Diebold in the insecure voting maching market.

  6. JustAGuy2 says:

    This has absolutely zero to do with net neutrality. This was an AT&T webcast, from an AT&T site, delivered to listeners on AT&T and non-AT&T networks. They didn’t block access to pearljam.com, or to anybody else’s website for their ISP customers.

    This is akin to saying (if Borders had a publishing imprint) “Borders publishing refused to publish my book, which means that Borders (the bookstore) is going to block other publishers from selling books to customers, even though Borders (the bookstore) has never done this.”

  7. rbb says:

    Simple solution – ditch the corporate sponsors and go it alone. If you can’t make it on your own without a corporate handout, then maybe it’s time to look for a new line of work.

    How is this a consumerist issue?

  8. Steel_Pelican says:

    @JustAGuy2: From Pearl Jam’s statement:

    “Most telecommunications companies oppose ‘net neutrality’ and argue that the public can trust them not to censor..”

    AT&T’s actions show that we can not trust them to be neutral- enforcing the argument for Net Neutrality. We can’t rely on AT&T (and presumably other corp’s like them) to be neutral, therefore we have to enforce the neutrality legislatively.

    There’s an argument that says we should vote with our dollars first, and I’d usually agree, but most telecom providers hold local monopolies, where capitalism can’t be used as a weapon against this kind of bullshit.

  9. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    @JustAGuy2: Very true. This is an issue between Pearl Jam and AT&T. Those watching it via AT&T’s service are subject to whatever they want to broadcast (or not broadcast).

  10. DeeJayQueue says:

    @JustAGuy2: I think its more like saying “Borders bought my books and then sold them to people but ripped out some of the pages that they didn’t agree with, and who knows what other books they’ve done it to” In and of itself that’s fine, but what if Borders was the only bookstore in town and you couldn’t buy your book without it having pages torn out of it?

  11. Trai_Dep says:

    Ditching a corporate sponsor to broadcast a show is akin to saying, “Let’s ditch gas companies to fuel my car.” While in theory, one can do it, at a practical level, one can’t.

    It’s a consumer issue because with overwhelming media consolidation, there ARE no avenues for individual voices to be heard in these cases.

    In particular since it’s AT&T, who’s fighting to stifle net innovation, erect toll booths on the net and illegally sends tens of millions of our phone calls to be monitored by the White House’s Exec Branch. It’s not as though it’s a quirky anomoly.

  12. Steel_Pelican says:

    @DeeJayQueue: And Borders was opposing legislative action that made book-page-out-tearing illegal, saying “you can trust us not to be neutral.”

  13. aeolus says:

    This is definitely not a case of net neutrality, all it is is AT&T protecting themselves from broadcasting some anti-American speech. I absolutely hate censorship, but I am going to side with AT&T on this one. The webcast was a privilege that they had to pay Lollapalooza for, so if anything, it is a situation between Lollapalooza and AT&T, but if they paid to be able to play it, they should be able to butcher it. Sort of how reality television shows cut things out to change our perception of certain players/characters. They are the ones giving up a million dollars at the end, so they get the right to do that in my mind.

  14. mac-phisto says:

    wait. people are still listening to anything eddie vedder has to say?

    i wouldn’t worry about this too much. i’m sure verizon already has a patent on the method for censoring webcasts.

  15. Consumer-X says:

    Pearl Jam? Who are they? Aren’t they that band that had a really great album in 1991? Isn’t Eddie Vedder the lead singer who at a concert a few years back smashed a picture of Bush on stage and when the crowd booed he whimpered “you guys are booing Bush right?”
    Wrong Eddie. Your anti Bush act is getting boooring. Why not work on spending more time writing some relevant music and spending less time being a political conformist. I want to listen to you rant about politics about as much as I want to listen to Dick Cheney sing rap music.

  16. @aeolus:

    Since when is criticising the president anti-american? Surely criticising politicians is one of the most patriotic things a citizen can do?? Or are we not suppose to question authority, ever?

    I don’t give a fig about Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, but what he said certainly isn’t anti-american.

  17. Chairman-Meow says:

    I’m am SHOCKED that AT&T has not issued the following:

    “We take this issue very seriously”

  18. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    @radleyas:

    You are 100% correct, the only ones being “Anti-American” are our politicians & jingoistic people who get patriotism confused with nationalism.

  19. Landru says:

    What’s the big deal? AT&T is our lord and master and should be trusted to make these decisions. Those bad lyrics just cause bad thoughts!

  20. yg17 says:

    @aeolus: Bush != America, therefore, Anti-Bush != Anti-America.

    Or are you just another one of those neocons that thinks that disagreeing with the government means you’re anti-American?

  21. Nemesis_Enforcer says:

    @aeolus: Yeah when people spoke up about anything Clinton, Reagan, Carter, Etc. no one accused them of being un-american. I love how its the whole with us or against us mentality. Fail to say Sieg Heil!! Or march to Bush’s tune and your with the terroroists..

  22. hi says:

    @ Quote:
    I want to listen to you rant about politics about as much as I want to listen to Dick Cheney sing rap music.

    I would love to hear Cheney sing rap music! =)

  23. People are missing the point if they think that Net Neutrality is about censorship– the primary focus of why we need net neutrality legislation is more related to “Can the ISP control (and therefore eventually charge for) how I use the internet”.

    A packet is a packet, and an ISP shouldn’t get involved in stateful inspection of how that packet is used. ie: If you use that packet for VoIP traffic, VPN traffic, your encrypted darknet, your webserver, or otherwise. The FCC has been on the side of Network Neutrality and has been stepping in where necessary.

    Agreed with Justaguy2. Get the details straight, folks. If anyone thinks this is ammunition for network neutrality advocates, then those NN advocates need to go back and read what it really stands for.

  24. aeolus says:

    @all of the people flaming me:
    [www.telegeography.com]
    The shaded areas represent heavy usage of AT&T (keep in mind, Bell South is now owned by AT&T). A great deal of their users live in heavily republican areas (hell, their headquarters are in Texas). Not to generalize, but most die hard republicans are going to say that if you are against Bush, you are against America. AT&T has to look at the speech as anti-American to protect themselves from speculation from their user base (given that I would say only about 10% are die hards, but you get the point). That is what I meant when I said anti-American. Trust me when I say I don’t think it is anti-American to insult the president, I was one of the people in the crowd cheering when he sang “George Bush leave this world alone”.

  25. andrewsmash says:

    If AT&T had the stones to actually put on their contract “We will censor speech we find offensive, which includes profanity, sexually explicit language, and language critical of the current administration” it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but I have a feeling that line was left out. The reason it matters is that all the audience knows is that something was censored, but not what it was, so to the average person watching at home, the assumption would be that it was foul language, and then they thank AT&T from protecting their virgin ears. If AT&T had a printed policy visible to both performers and watchers that said that their censors would bleep anything that they disagreed with AND spelled those things out, then we would have no complaint. As it is though, Vedder could say that the company made him look like a potty mouth as opposed to a political detractor, therefore negatively affecting his reputation (or something – I realize most red voters think anti-Bus speech is profanity, but I am just trying to make a point).

  26. andrewsmash says:

    Oh, and why does the fact that AT&T paid for broadcast rights give them censorship right? I still don’t understand that argument.

  27. JustAGuy2 says:

    @andrewsmash:

    Depends on what they paid for. If they paid for the right to “broadcast Lollapalooza in its entirety, without deletion or interruption,” it doesn’t give them censorship rights. If they paid for the right to “create a webcast of the Lollapalooza concert, including whatever content we deem appropriate,” then it does. My guess is the contract looks more like the second than the first.

  28. maulkye says:

    We the people of this United States of America should never forget the price paid by our forefathers, lest we pay it again. Why is it that each generation must learn this lesson over and again, while some never learn it (G. W. Bush being a very good example).

    “We’ve” paid a premium explicitly for the right to express political discontent, and no amount of legal or contractual appropriateness should ever be allowed to interfere with this right. When this happens, the will of the people must overrule this oppression and change these laws, lest we lose our voice and our freedom.

    C. A. Smith (Florida, U.S.)

  29. teenage witch says:

    luckily anyone with even a toe in the reality pool hates bush already.

  30. Trai_Dep says:

    @aeolus: “all it is is AT&T protecting themselves from broadcasting some anti-American speech.”

    Anti-American = peaceful political dissent?!

    Which politbureau do you come from?

    Have you ever – even briefly – read a US history book? The Constitution?

    You’ve just revoked your right to be an American. Please leave.

  31. Instigator says:

    It’s no coincidence that AT&T’s logo resembles the Death Star…

  32. yg17 says:

    @aeolus: And with AT&T’s virtual monopoly on the telecom market in it’s areas, where the hell would all of the pissed off republicans go to for phone service? Keep in mind, most of these die-hards are probably in Bumfuck Egypt where there is no broadband, so VoIP like Vonage is out of the question.

    AT&T has a political agenda here, simple as that.

  33. putch says:

    you really need to remove the net neutrality label. it is clearly incorrect and only serves to label proponents of net neutrality as idiots.

  34. Trai_Dep says:

    Putch -

    It’s part of a penumbra of evil that surrounds AT&T that is relevent in judging how “accidental” the quasi-censorship is.

    If Amoeba Records messed up a livecast with the same excuse, I’d believe them in a NY second. Then again, they’d never do that. Or fight Net Neutrality. Or illegally release their data to the White House then lie about it. Whoops.

  35. faust1200 says:

    I’ve been personally censoring PJ since the early 90′s. I’m glad to see big business finally getting on board.

  36. Jesse in Japan says:

    What was the title of the song they censored? I want to look up those lyrics.

  37. G-Dog says:

    I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more!

  38. That Apple is on Lockdown!

  39. denmac says:

    After having heard the live, unedited version of the Pearl Jam song referred to in the article, I don’t believe AT&T is the culprit.

    Based on the quality (?) of musicianship and Eddie Vedder’s vocals on the censored section of the song, clearly the only entity with a stake in limiting the damage this version of the song does to the original is Pink Floyd!

  40. synergy says:

    There’s a reason no shows allow Pink to play “Dear Mr. President” if she’s their musical entertainment. Except Jimmy Kimmel that I know of.

    Lyrics