At the Congressional Internet Caucus' State of the Net 2009
conference on Wednesday, there was also a panel discussion on the future of digital copyright that was anything but reassuring in terms of what to expect on the copyright front. Basically, it was a lot more of the same. The Congressional representative on the panel, Aaron Cooper, counsel to Sen. Patrick Leahy on the Senate Judiciary Committee, basically said that Leahy (who pushed through the highly problematic ProIP bill
last year) is planning to introduce new laws concerning performance rights this year. This issue was seconded by Daryl Friedman, from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (and who's also on the board of SoundExchange). Friedman also later talked up the importance of unifying the various collections agencies into a "super agency." Funny that the guy from SoundExchange (who likely would be
that agency, and which has a problem historically with actually paying money out) would suggest that...
The real problem, though, is that the entire framework for the whole debate remains the same. It's set up as this big adversarial situation, where content creators go on and on about the need to "protect" their "assets" and the importance of making sure that content creators are compensated. Of course, the problem is that content creators think those two things go together: i.e., you have to "protect" the content to get compensated. As we've seen over and over again, nothing is further from the truth. But it's this adversarial view that leads to troubling policy implications. It got so ridiculous that Alec French, from NBC Universal (and occasional Techdirt commenter), started comparing copyright issues to questions of who pulls the trigger in a murder. Specifically, he was talking about Cablevision remote DVR case
, using the analogy that Cablevision set up the gun with a string attached to the trigger and a door -- and if someone opens the door (pushes a button on a remote) and the gun goes off and kills someone, Cablevision should be liable (just as the person who set up the gun would be liable). Of course, there's a huge
glaring hole in this analogy. Recording a video for personal time shifting purposes is perfectly legal
-- unlike murder.
But just the fact that the conversation is at that level shows what a huge hill there is to climb to have this policy debate actually get somewhere useful. The real problem (which the entertainment industry and, sadly, most of our elected officials refuse to entertain) is that copyright is fundamentally broken. It's a system that was designed for an entirely different purpose, and as each new technology innovation has come around, we've applied a weak duct-tape patch
to copyright law to try to deal with that unique scenario. And, we keep patching the law here and there, and with each new innovation, copyright law doesn't quite work right. This was a point raised by Gigi Sohn of Public Knowledge on the panel -- and she's exactly right. But, folks like Alec French dismissed the whole concept with a wave of the hand to talk about stuff that "actually might happen" in Congress. I have no doubt that French is correct that Congress won't take up the real issues, but that's a big problem.
So, in the end, there's probably not much to look forward to when it comes to copyright reform. There are very few Congressional reps who actually understand the issues, and there's little likelihood of them gaining much more interest. Instead, they're going to continue with their superficial understanding of the issue, and rely on representatives of the entertainment industry to tell them what they need. And, so we get more unnecessary compulsory licenses, stricter (more damaging) copyright controls and a bigger mess to deal with.