How Much Is Enough? We've Passed 15 'Anti-Piracy' Laws In The Last 30 Years
from the make-it-stop dept
Last week, I spoke on a panel at Stanford Law School concerning SOPA. There were two lawyers representing the MPAA’s views, and at one point one of them said that he hoped that Hollywood just wanted to “meet in the middle” with those opposed to SOPA and find “a solution” that worked. Lawyer Andrew Bridges got up and asked a rather reasonable question: when, in the past, has the entertainment industry ever been willing to “meet in the middle” on copyright issues? He began listing out every single expansion to copyright law from the past 30 years. In 1976, we got the Copyright Act of 1976, which flipped copyright on its head and expanded it massively. Not only did it switch from an opt-in system with registration and renewals to an “everything is automatically opted-in,” but it also massively expanded the length of copyright. You might think that the industry would be satisfied from that point forward. In fact, as key SOPA supporter Steve Tepp from the US Chamber of Commerce recently claimed: “To me if I get what I ask for, I stop complaining.”
So, did the entertainment industry “stop complaining”? No. Since the Copyright Act of 1976 went into effect (in 1978), we’ve expanded copyright law 15 times on issues related to “stopping piracy” (and many, many more if you look at all copyright law expansions — beyond just anti-piracy efforts — such as expanding coverage to semiconductor chip designs, boat hulls and other things). It really started in 1982, meaning that we’ve had 15 new anti-piracy laws in just 30 years. If SOPA/PIPA had passed, it would have been 16 — or more than once every two years. Let’s take a look:
- 1982: Piracy and Counterfeiting Amendments Act: Increased criminal penalties for infringing records, tapes and films from $25k & 2 years in jail to $250,000 and 5 years in jail. Also… made it so that first-time offenders could get the maximum.
- 1984: Record Rental Amendment of 1984: Outlawed music rentals (have you ever wondered why there were no Blockbusters or Netflixes for music?)
- 1990: Copyright Remedy Clarification Act: Allowed copyright holders to sue states for copyright infringement (before that, states could claim sovereign immunity)
- 1990: Computer Software Rental Amendments Act: Outlawed software rentals
- 1992: Audio Home Recording Act: Mandated DRM on certain digital audio devices (mainly DAT), added a royalty on such devices.
- 1994: Uruguay Round Agreements Act: Not only did it seize works out of the public domain and put them under copyright (this was what was challenged in the recent Golan case), but it made it a criminal offense to bootleg concerts (audio or video).
- 1995: The Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act: Created a new “performance” right for copyright holders concerning digital “performances.”
- 1996: Anticounterfeiting Consumer Protection Act of 1996: Expanded racketeering laws to include criminal copyright infringement, as well as “trafficking” in computer software, documentation or packaging, as well as trafficking in movies or audiovisual works. Also let the government seize property associated with these activities (precursor to domain seizures…).
- 1997: No Electronic Theft (NET) Act: Decreased the threshold for what counts as criminal infringement (such as taking out the monetary profit requirement).
- 1998: Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act: You should know this one. Expanded copyright terms by 20 years.
- 1998: Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA): Again, you may have heard of it. Created anti-circumvention rules and the notice-and-takedown system for online infringement, among many other things.
- 1999: Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999: Massively increased statutory damages for infringement
- 2004: Intellectual Property Protection and Courts Amendments Act: Set up penalties (civil and criminal) for counterfeit labels, documentation and packaging in association with copyrighted goods (yes, separate from the content itself). Also lowered the bar to show willful infringement.
- 2005: Family Entertainment and Copyright Act: Criminalizes recording of movies in theaters and also lets theaters detain people merely suspected of recording in theaters. Criminalizes releasing a work online before it’s been officially released (if it’s “being prepared” for commercial distribution).
- 2008: Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property (PRO-IP) Act: Increased civil penalties for infringement. Increased government seizure & forfeiture powers (which is how the government currently justifies its questionable domain seizures) and created a job in the White House to focus on greater enforcement.
But apparently we’re told that the internet is a “lawless wild west” when it comes to copyright issues? I think not. All we’ve seen is expansion after expansion after expansion, always using questionable claims of rampant infringement that is supposedly destroying industries. Each time, the various industries would create a moral panic about why this law was absolutely needed. Forgive us for being a bit skeptical. We’ve seen this game pretty damn frequently. To claim that there are no laws, or that we need to “meet in the middle” seems pretty bizarre. As Bridges noted at Stanford last week, if they want to “meet in the middle,” are they willing to give up half of these laws to get SOPA/PIPA?