AT&T says it didn't censor rock band Pearl Jam

AT&T denies intentionally censoring a performance by the band Pearl Jam.

U.S. rock band Pearl Jam is crying fowl after an AT&T webcast censored politically themed lyrics by lead singer Eddie Vedder, but the telecom giant said Thursday the editing was a mistake by a contractor.

Pearl Jam's performance last Sunday, part of the Lollapalooza tour, was carried on AT&T's Blue Room site, which provides free videos of concert performances, sporting events and other content.

Vedder, who has frequently criticized U.S. President George Bush, started ad-libbing during the group's performance of its popular song, "Daughter." To the tune of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall," Vedder sung, "George Bush, leave this world alone," and "George Bush find yourself another home." Those lines were edited out of the Webcast after Vedder sneaked in one line criticizing Bush.

Pearl Jam used the editing to call for the U.S. government to pass net neutrality rules prohibiting broadband providers from blocking or slowing Web content that uses their pipes.

"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," Pearl Jam said on its Web site. "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."

The band said it's concerned about consolidation among broadband providers, leaving consumers few options. "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," the band said. "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."

But AT&T spokesman Michael Coe said the edit was a mistake made by webcast contractor Davie-Brown Entertainment. AT&T's Blue Room has no age restrictions, and it does operate with a slight delay to edit out excessive profanity and "wardrobe malfunctions," Coe said. But editing politically themed lyrics during a song violates AT&T policy, he added.

AT&T is working on including the complete performance on Blue Room and is taking steps to make sure such editing doesn't happen again, Coe said.

"We are not happy at all that this was done," he said. "We regret that it did happen."

Net neutrality advocates Public Knowledge and SavetheInternet.com criticized the censorship. "AT&T routinely rails against net neutrality as a solution without a problem,'" SavetheInternet said on its blog. "They say net neutrality regulations aren't necessary because they wouldn't dare interfere with online content. At the same time they tout plans to become gatekeepers to the Web with public relations bromides about 'shaping' Web traffic to better serve the needs of an evolving Internet."

Coe said the issue has nothing to do with the net-neutrality debate. "This was on our own site," he said. "I don't know how it'd fit net neutrality. This is something that shouldn't have happened."

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service

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