Next Two Congressional Hearings On Copyright Reform Show The Exact Wrong Approach
from the setting-it-up-as-a-fight dept
As Congress kicked off its latest effort towards comprehensive copyright reform, I noted some talking points that raised a really big concern: many in Congress appeared to suggest that copyright reform was a fight between “content creators” and “technology companies” and that any eventual result would be a balance between what those two sides were squabbling for. This is very concerning for a variety of reasons. First off, neither of those groups should be the primary concern of lawmakers. The Constitutional mandate for Congress when it comes to copyright is to “promote the progress of science” (the useful arts stuff is about patents…). The key beneficiaries are to be the public.
So, the first concern, obviously, is that if the focus is on “content creators” on one side and “the tech industry” on the other, the public is not represented. That’s a really bad idea. The second problem with setting it up as a battle between those two sides is that it suggests that what’s good for one side is bad for the other, and this is a push and pull whereby when one side wins something, the other loses, and the “ideal” result is one where both have to compromise. Thus, you get talk about how copyright law needs to “balance” the interests of “both sides.” Again, this ignores that there are a lot more than “two” sides here, but more importantly it ignores the idea that this is not a zero sum game.
The history of the tech and content industries shows that — while they often squabble about things — success goes hand in hand. Each and every major innovation from the tech world has resulted in greater opportunity for content creators. It’s getting old to say this over and over and over again, but a mere four years after Jack Valenti told Congress that the VCR would be “the Boston Strangler” to the movie industry, home video sales for Hollywood were bigger than box office sales. Technology isn’t anti-content creator — it opens up new and greater opportunities. The focus shouldn’t be on figuring out who has to “give up” what for “balance” but to seek out a scenario that is more likely to increase the opportunity for everyone (whether or not everyone grasps the opportunity may be a different story).
Thus, the key focus should be on what kinds of things should be in any copyright reform proposal that will “promote the progress” by building up those opportunities for everyone — increasing innovation, not locking it down. That means bringing together everyone to figure out how they can help each other and the public — not dividing them up and putting them on certain “teams.”
But… this is Congress. And that’s not how Congress works.
Instead, we’re getting two separate hearings, one about how awesome copyright is, and another about how awesome technology is. As if those two things are in conflict.
Congress needs a fight between “this side” and “that side,” preferably with each side involving giant multinational companies with giant lobbying budgets. Because, when you have a fight like that, both sides ramp up their donations to Congress to make sure “their side” is heard. Congress loves to set up fights between two big wealthy industries, because that just means more money for them. This is also why this won’t be resolved any time soon (the longer you drag it out, the more money pours in).
So, it should come as no surprise at all that the next two hearings that the “Intellectual Subcommittee” have called are designed not to move the ball forward on real copyright reform, but rather to set up the “two sides” in the war. First up, next week, there will be a hearing on “Innovation in America: The Role of Copyrights.” The following week? Same thing, but “the role of technology” (official title hasn’t been released yet, as far as I can tell, but I’ve seen a few variations floating around, that basically just involve substituting “technology” for “copyrights”) — as if technology is inherently “anti-copyright.”
The end result will be lots of home team cheering from people who solidly identify with one side or the other, coupled with ragging on “the other side.” But there will be little or nothing to actually look at how those two “sides,” along with many others, can come together to best serve the public benefit in terms of furthering the incentives to have important cultural and intellectual works created, experienced and shared.