I'm spending today down at the first Tech Policy Summit
down in San Jose. The group putting this together has done a great job bringing out some big names, though the attendance is a bit more sparse than expected (lots of empty seats). One of the speakers this morning was everyone's favorite Congressman from Los Angeles, Howard Berman, who has a nice long history pushing legislation
that favors the entertainment industry. He's now in charge of the intellectual property subcommittee
(which, as has been pointed out, is like putting a Representative from Detroit in charge of auto safety). Most recently, Berman's been talking about patent reform
-- and that's what much of his talk this morning focused on. He made some generally good points about problems with the patent system today, and noted that the system is clearly slowing down the commercialization of products in certain areas. He also took a swipe at the pharmaceutical industry, noting that last year's attempt at patent reform
was shot down by the pharmaceutical industry who complained that any changes to patent law would be a problem -- leading to a request "from above" that Congress not move forward with patent reform. In fact, he called the whole thing "a sham process" after pharma representatives claimed the system is fine as is. Berman seems hopeful that they'll be able to get around that this year, but didn't quite explain how. The good news is that he's focused on the important issues, such as making sure that patent quality improves and that the validity of patents can quickly be reviewed both before and after patents are granted -- and without having to send it through the federal court system. That's all good, but with patent reform, the devil is always in the details
-- and it's not clear that very many people in Congress really have an understanding of the details or the unintended consequences of some of their policy suggestions.
Berman avoided most talk concerning copyright law, but the two audience questions both focused on that aspect. JD Lasica
asked about whether or not it was fair for the entertainment companies to force people who were expressing their creativity online to have videos removed from YouTube for including a clip of music. Berman's response highlights about all you need to know about his viewpoint: "That's not people expressing their creativity. It's people expressing someone else's creativity." Apparently Berman believes that all creativity springs from a completely blank slate and no one builds on anyone else's work. He did go on to say things that sounded right, about how he knows his job is not to protect an outdated business model and how the industry needs to compete with piracy by offering legitimate alternatives, but he hasn't shown that in his policy proposals.
then asked about the PERFORM Act
, which would require DRM on streaming audio. Berman responded that a performance right makes fundamental sense, and then said the news of the proclaimed XM/Sirius merger
actually supports the claim that offering a device to record satellite radio
requires more money to be paid to the entertainment industry. He pointed out that the satellite radio companies, in defending the proposed merger, pointed to the iPod as a competitor, and that somehow clearly shows that the traditional rights that the satellite companies pay for in order to broadcast does not cover enough, since it's not meant to cover something like an iPod, for which different rights apply. All in all, Berman didn't say much new, but danced around the controversial issues nicely.