Presidential Candidates Asked If They've Stopped Beating Their Wives With Weak Copyright Laws

from the big-content-propaganda dept

Patrick Ross apparently has no shame. For years, at the Progress and Freedom Foundation, he presented ridiculous statement after ridiculous statement about intellectual property. There was the one about how fair use harmed innovation. Then there’s my personal favorite, where he argued that the DMCA shouldn’t be changed because markets shouldn’t be regulated — ignoring the key point that the DMCA, itself, was a regulation that was tremendously distorting the market. After attacking me for suggesting that his viewpoints were influenced by the fact that he was paid to promote the positions of the entertainment industry (when I hadn’t even suggested that), Ross went on to make it official that he was shilling for the entertainment industry, by creating a super-lobbying group that represented all the different big copyright groups under one umbrella: The Copyright Alliance, made up of the MPAA, the RIAA, the BSA, the ESA and others.

Ross’ latest stunt is to demand that all presidential candidates answer his survey of stunningly loaded questions about copyright. The questions are all of the “and have you stopped beating your wife?” variety — even causing the reporters attending Ross’s press conference to make fun of the questions as being ridiculously leading. Of course, the questions are publically available (pdf) for anyone to view. Let’s go through them one by one in order to help the presidential candidates step around the incredibly loaded nature of the questions to do a better job with them. Hopefully, Ross won’t accuse us of a copyright violation in reposting the questions.

  • How would you promote the progress of science and creativity, as enumerated in the U.S. Constitution, by upholding and strengthening copyright law and preventing its diminishment?

    Well, first, it might help to point out that the U.S. publishing industry was initially built on extremely loose copyrights, so the very idea that strengthening copyright law is necessary to promote progress of science and creativity is provably false. Even the biggest defender of copyrights these days (and a backer of Ross’ organization), Disney, owes much of its early success to being able to use the characters others created. That, alone, should be argument enough for a stronger public domain, rather than stronger copyright. On top of that, plenty of research has shown that by strengthening copyright, you will often diminish how much content is created. More to the point, with the rise of modern communications tools, and a world where content is made by everyone, rather than just a small group of professionals, the entire concept of copyright needs to be revisited from scratch to figure out what really is necessary.

  • How do you feel the rights that have served our economy and spurred creativity in the physical world should apply in the digital world?

    The rights that have served our economy and spurred creativity are quite important. The First Amendment, for example, is a key right, preventing the government from passing laws that take away freedom of speech. It’s that freedom that is important and clearly should be (and is) extended into the digital world. In fact, we should reinforce that by removing dangerous and creativity harming restrictions on speech, found in laws like the DMCA that hold back perfectly legitimate and reasonable uses of content, often hindering creativity.

  • How would you protect the incentive to create by committing sufficient resources to support effective civil and criminal enforcement of copyright laws domestically and internationally?

    There’s a false assumption there, that the incentive to create is copyright laws. If you look at the incentives to create historically, you’ll see that copyright has rarely had much to do with it at all. Instead, plenty of other factors, often coming from the marketplace had much stronger incentives. In fact, copyright has all too often held back incentives to create. As you well know, plenty of people created plenty of content prior to copyright existing. And, famously, once copyright was put in place, it often gave those who had created content earlier less incentive to create, as they could just sit back and rely on royalties from earlier content. More importantly, modern communications systems have shown that the incentive to create often has little to do with monetary rewards. Much of the internet is filled with user-generated content that was created not because of copyright, but for many other reasons. In fact, we’re seeing a tremendous explosion in content creation these days — often in spite of copyright rather than because of it. So, the best way to protect the incentive to create is to continue to get restrictions on creation out of the way, remove barriers to creation, expand the public domain, broaden the definition of fair use and get rid of pointless restriction such as those found in the DMCA.

  • How would you ensure inclusion of copyright protections in bilateral, regional and multilateral trade agreements to protect creators and foster global development?

    Aha! A trick question! Why would we want to include monopoly protections in a free trade agreement? Monopoly rights deserve no place in any free trade agreement — and, in fact, are against the very idea of free trade.

  • How would you protect the rights of creators to express themselves freely under the principles established in the First Amendment?

    An excellent and important question. I would do so by getting rid of much of the DMCA, which unfairly puts excessive restrictions on the rights of creators to express themselves freely. I’d also look towards lowering the copyright burden on creators, expanding the public domain, rolling back unlimited copyright extensions and increasing the power of fair use — all with an eye towards protecting the rights of the majority of content creators today not to be bullied by a bunch of companies with huge lobbying budgets and increasingly obsolete business models.

Thanks, Patrick, for giving us the chance to address these important questions.

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Comments on “Presidential Candidates Asked If They've Stopped Beating Their Wives With Weak Copyright Laws”

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Steve says:

why stop at intellectual property?

given your strong stand against intellectual property rights, i’m curious: why stop there? why should any property rights be enforcable? why are digital rights different than physical ones?

i’m not being facetious — i’d really love to hear someone from the vitriolic silicon valley anti-intellectual property rights mob explain to me why there should be two sets of standards, physical property versus virtual? and why i shouldnt be allowed to enter and use your home and office and car whenever I like — since violating property rights isn’t stealing?

reality check everyone? i think the introduction of even the concept of property rights of any kind marks the dividing line between the modern progressive liberal era and world and the old world, where no one had any rights to any property of any kind except those born into an aristocracy. “the divine right of kings” it was called. the system, “feudalism,” where a tiny few owned everything and everyone else was a tenant. paying rent and tribute.

then miracle of miracles, concepts like the magna carta started eroding the “divine rights of kings” and replacing them with radical ideas like representative democracy and yes, property rights available to all.

if in our quest to pay nothing for content we geeks destroy that basic fabric, all we will do is turn the distribution conglomerates (comcast, apple, news corp, disney, google, verizon, etc.) into feudal lords, where the creative class (engineers, artsist, entrepreneurs) have no right to benefit from their creative output, but we pay through the nose for access to that creative output (broadband fees, cel phone agreements, iphones, etc)

c’mon techdirt, put your moeny where your mouth is: publish your home address and leave the front door open and we’ll all know your position on intellectual property rights isn’t hypocritical

Craig (profile) says:

Re: why stop at intellectual property?

Your point is well taken, however asserted rights over something physical is not mired in conceptual debate. Real property can be legally defined by universally accepted methods.

You cannot assign that same definition to concepts. When is an idea totally unique? Each day a person or company grabs onto a concept that may have been pioneered by someone else and goes with it. Let’s take the MP3 player. How many varieties of those exist? You couldn’t count them,but the players themselves are physical and therefore one can easily assert ownership. However, how do you define the ownership of using a device to store and play the MP3s? Somebody “stole” the idea of storing digital files when they conceived of an MP3 player? I don’t think so.

Instead of media corporations fighting to control how you get that MP3 and play it on your device of choice, they should be figuring out how to entice you to load their content. They are biting the hands that have over-fed them for years because they have been in a position of absolute power over us as consumers.

You spoke of feudalism and the divine right of kings; an apt description of the entertainment industry, sir! The internet has become the modern Magna Carta and now society is struggling with defining new standards for ownership, just as society did so many centuries ago when the document was first tabled. The trouble here, is that the “kings” of today (MPAA, RIAA et al.) are not signing the document, rather they are using their wealth and influence to fight this all the way. It’s a modern-day version of the English civil war, but I can tell you it will be the commoners like me that will win the war, even if individual battles are lost along the way.

Aaron K says:

Re: why stop at intellectual property?

The problem with your argument is that you falsely assume we geeks are out to get everything for free simply because it is digital. Not only if your assumption false, but it ignores the bigger issue – copyrights and patents represent a government granted monopoly on a specified device, idea, process, business model, etc.

Personal property is clearly defined and accepted by the masses as the tangible property a person owns. I would clearly be harmed if you came into my house and ate my food or used my computer without permission.

IP is clearly different. In reality, the RIAA is not harmed if I borrow a CD from a friend and the MPAA is not harmed when I borrow a movie, yet both want the public to think they harmed by a “lost sale.”

By the same token, a writer is not harmed when I quote his work in a school paper, blog, etc, as long as proper credit is given even if I don’t buy their book.

I’m not against IP rights. I am against using IP as a protectionism tool to create an artificial monopoly on a product.

Merijn Vogel (profile) says:

Re: why stop at intellectual property?

In my opinion intellectual property is a whole lot different than physical property. Yes, it does cost quite a bit of creative energy to create a movie, a piece of music or some other work of art. So there is an investment.

However, IP is used for more than just works of art and the protection of the rights of reproduction. It is used as a legal force that causes many artists who would like to create deriviate works to not producing. IP is used as a means to stop people to examine what’s happening inside a computer by forbidding reverse engineering. There are software companies trying to use IP-law to prevent other software writers to write software that closely resembles their work.

It is not just geeks wanting everything for free, it is about everyone being free to produce all kinds of works. The internet can make you famous, you do not need a recordcompany to achieve that these days. Silly Youtube clips for example are creative works that sometimes cause quite a stir.

Artists, maybe especially musicians, make much more money from concerts and goodies (t-shirts, mugs, whatnot) than they do by selling cd’s through a recordcompany. The only ones getting rich from selling cd’s are those companies. A cd may cost about $20, of which $5 is for the shop and VAT, $14 for the record company, $0.2 for the medium and $0.8 for the band. (well, this breakdown is just an educated guess..)

That is a business model in need of repair, that is keeping me from buying many cd’s. Would I just have to pay the price for the album to the artist directly, the artist could get 5x as much for the same thing. Suppose: $4 to the artist, I get a copy of their work, I can buy 5 works for the current price of one, I can support 5 more artists 5 times better.

I personally find myself buying music directly from artists or from their own or specialized recordcompanies like . I like these small record-companies a whole lot more than the big ones; they do give me value for money. They provide special podcast-editions in high quality to enjoy more music from their artists. I decide to buy full works of those artists, so s/he makes more money.

DCX2 says:

Re: why stop at intellectual property?

i’m not being facetious — i’d really love to hear someone from the vitriolic silicon valley anti-intellectual property rights mob explain to me why there should be two sets of standards, physical property versus virtual?

Simply saying that you are not being facetious does not make it so, especially with the rest of that sentence.

Oh, and tangible goods have scarcity. Digital goods do not. Therefore two standards makes sense.

if in our quest to pay nothing for content

That might be your quest, but it’s not mine. My quest is not free content. It is to remove perpetual copyright and replace it with something sensible.

Copyright was supposed to give you an incentive to create something that eventually gets put into the public domain, not as a to lock down content forever.

c’mon techdirt, put your moeny where your mouth is: publish your home address and leave the front door open and we’ll all know your position on intellectual property rights isn’t hypocritical

Home addresses are not copyright-able, patentable, trademark-able, or otherwise protected by any kind of intellectual property law.

Comboman says:

Re: why stop at intellectual property?

i’d really love to hear someone from the vitriolic silicon valley anti-intellectual property rights mob explain to me why there should be two sets of standards, physical property versus virtual?

I’d really love to tell you, but then you would be “stealing” my thoughts and I know you’re not into that.

Dave S says:

Re: why stop at intellectual property?

i’m not being facetious — i’d really love to hear someone from the vitriolic silicon valley anti-intellectual property rights mob explain to me why there should be two sets of standards, physical property versus virtual? and why i shouldnt be allowed to enter and use your home and office and car whenever I like — since violating property rights isn’t stealing?

I’m not from Silicon Valley, don’t even live there, but I can easily explain it for you:

If you enter my home/office/car, whether you actually steal it or not, you deprive me of its use while you’re there. Even if you’re randomly dropping in to change my oil and give me a free tune-up, that prevents me from going to work or the grocery store while you’re doing it. The only way to ensure that your entry will not deprive me of my rights to use my property as I see fit is if you ask for (and receive) my permission first.

Software, music, etc. are completely different, as your use of the software I wrote has absolutely no impact whatsoever on my use of it. (Unless you’re using my computer to run it on, but then we’re back into the realm of physical property.) To follow the oil change/tune-up metaphor, if I find a bug in the apache web server, I can repair it and every web server in the world will keep on running without interruption while I work, with the sole exception of my own development/testing instance(s). If I break it horribly? No big deal – I’ve only ruined my own instance, nobody else is affected. If I fix it brilliantly? Again, nobody else is affected unless they choose to update to a patched version including my fix. In no case am I depriving or otherwise imposing on anyone else’s ability to use their copies of apache as they see fit.

Nick (profile) says:

Re: why stop at intellectual property?

Go read Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig. You can get it for free!! Imagine that.

I don’t understand your argument. You admit that the conglomerates are making us serfs, but then you confuse scarce goods with non-scares goods.

Techdirt will let you have all their blog posts! Go ahead and take them. Post them on other blogs and pretend you are Techdirt (like many have already). Google any of the titles of recent posts and you will find wholesale copying. They do nothing about it because there is no reason to. Fighting is a lost cause. And *that* is how they put their money where their mouth is.

Medbob says:

Re: why stop at intellectual property?

Your response makes the assumption that “Intellectual Property” is the same as Physical Property. It is not. That is why there are patents and copyrights. Patents were created to allow protection of an IDEA about PHYSICAL INVENTIONS, for a short period of time to balance the benefit to the inventor, with the benefit to the entire society. The same balancing act applies to copyright, which was created to allow protection of an IDEA about INTANGIBLE INVENTIONS, for a short period of time to balance the benefit to the inventor, with the benefit to the entire society.
By over-simplifying the concept, you are losing the distinction between real property, and IDEAS. Ideas usually only have value when they are shared. Once they are shared, the genie is out of the bottle. That’s why patents and copyright are necessary to help the inventor.
This bedrock truth is often not discerned nor considered. What is the value of a song? I know a guy who invented a song, and derives no monetary value from it. It only has physical value in the agreement of value WE place upon it together.
Ideas are unique for several reasons. They have no physicality, so they are not diminished by sharing. They can be incorporated in other ideas, or provide inspiration for other ideas and constructions. Once released, they CANNOT be owned. You can more easily constrain the wind, than to POSSESS an idea. Therein lies the fundamental right of Fair Use.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why is jam different from traffic jam?

Given your hatred of traffic jams, why stop there, why not outlaw jam?

I think the freedom to eat jam is the cornerstone of freedom, take away a mans right to jam and you make him a feudal slave.

Do you sell your Intellect when you sell a copy of Intellectual property? Are you getting dumber with every sale?

ReallyEvilCanine (profile) says:

That’s right, Steve, when you can’t actually argue a position, throw a few straw men onto the fire in order to roast those tasty red herrings.

The term “property” in “IP” implies that ideas are analogous to tangible objects. They are not. It further ignores the fact that no matter what happens, if you take my car — even to “pimp it out” — you have deprived me of my vehicle whereas if you “pimp out” my idea I’ve lost nothing and others may benefit.

I haven’t seen a troll this poorly written since I stopped reading Jeff K.

boost says:

Re: Re:

There’s a difference between anti-copyright and being against ‘modernizing’ copyright laws to restrict and inhibit inovation based on earlier art. This is an important distinction that you have either failed or are reluctant to make based on either your own ignorance or personal political gain. Do you perhaps have something to gain from more strict copyright protection?

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Steve Is Un-American

I think many of you have argued that Steve is either a troll or mis-guided, so I won’t bother with refuting his post. Instead, I’ll take a totally different route in pointing out that what he wrote is un-American, a veiled threat, and an impediment to the democratic process and free speech.

And, no, I’m not being facetious here or just trolling either. I am deadly serious about a real threat to free speech and open political discourse.

Mike has views on IP with which some people disagree. Despite what anyone thinks, we should all agree that he is not a revolutionary, is not threatening to take down the government, and is simply peacefully advocating certain policy which backs with his economic arguments. Mike has never advocated infringing copyright on music, stealing anything, or breaking any law.

Despite this, when he talks about using an open Wi-Fi signal, or the article above, some Brownshirt always manages to throw down a “Why don’t you post your address and I’ll come inside your house?” comment. Whether the commenter in question is just using a metaphor or not is not the issue. He has personalized the political debate with a threat against a person and their home. Even the mob tried to keep family out of it.

By bringing this kind of personal threat into the discussion, it serves the purpose of putting a high risk cost on Mike for exercising his First Amendment rights. Rights that are far more important than who gets 20 cents on blank CD sales. You, sir, are personally stifling free speech, and that’s just an shitty way to argue.

Most likely Steve is innocuous, and is merely engaging in the political debate here. He does not intend to go to Mike’s house and eat his cookies. But it’s awfully hard to know on the Web. Fact is, some people are wacky, and some people DO quit astronaut school to drive half way across the country, pee in a bottle, and cause harm to others. And even if Steve is not one of them, his suggestion may resonate with a wacko.

I’m pretty sure Mike believes in individual property rights to physical property. His arguments are not suggesting we take away your rights to own your house and stuff, so don’t threaten his or anyone else’s. If you think “turning the tables on him” to include a violation of his physical property is a good “counterpoint” to something he said, then you are wrong. Go speak with a logic professor and get schooled.

But more important that the fact that you’re wrong, don’t make these kinds of personal threats – not in person, and not on the net. It’s not nice, and it’s probably not what your mother taught you.

Kyros (profile) says:

Steve…learn to capitalize.

That aside, I think everyone else has sufficiently stated the issue and solutions. The only thing I have to add is that you should keep in mind that one can produce nearly limitless copies of digital property and only have to pay for the price of storage, which nowadays is so cheap you can get it for free (,, etc).

I can not produce limitless copies of my house or my ham sandwich without more work, more supplies, and large sums of time, all which cost money.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Non-Exclusive Discussion

“With Iraq, healthcare, social security and other issues so important in this election, if this topic is what would decide your vote, then you really are a bunch of dipshits.”

um…not sure where anyone said this was the only voting issue for them. I’d bet a nickel that some of us here might also have an opinion on the war, etc. Turns out this is a technology discussion site, so we talk about tech. Jeez.

The “dipshits” might be those who perpetually vote based on the same freakin’ divisive issues at EVERY election, every 4 years. That clogs up the agenda for any new issues. And usually, no politician actually manages to act on these divisive issues, but they’ll talk them up every 4 years to “scare up some votes”. Think gays, religion, abortion, and guns.

Keith says:

Bring this to the attention of the candidates


If you haven’t already done so, I think it would be worth the effort to reformat this post as a letter to the candidates to help those of them who have not devoted much thought to these issues avoid swallowing Ross’ propaganda and making statements we’d rather not see them make. (I suspect few of the campaigns follow Techdirt, though I might be surprised.)

I’m sure you could easily write a cover letter or introductory paragraph that would likely catch the attention of the people in the campaigns who screen unsolicited input, showing them that it would be worth the time spend reading the whole thing.

Oldphart says:

Presidential Survey

Since when has a top contender for the Presidency ever turned away from big business and favored the masses instead. Keith makes an excellent point. Those running for that office needs to be aware of how the corrupt entertainment industry is bending and forming copyright law. The money must be extremely good from their current business model to want to not only hold on to it, but strengthen it by lobbying our lawmakers. The public in general won’t know what hit them till it is too late.
As far as the candidates go, I have to side with anonymous coward. Politics DOES play a big part in our dwindling freedoms. If you don’t want your vote to become a choice between the lesser of two evils, don’t vote for either of them. The logical choice really is Ron Paul.

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