Gary Shapiro: The Copyright Lobby Is Restricting Innovation And It Needs To Stop

from the indeed dept

We mentioned recently that Gary Shapiro, the head of the Consumer Electronics Association, is a good friend of those who are worried about companies taking away consumer rights in the tech field. For years, he's been a strong voice against entertainment companies trying to expand and extend copyright laws to cut off innovative new products. Now he's written up a worthwhile rant on how copyright is being used to hold back innovation. He points out that he's been fighting this battle for his entire career, as his first job was working on the famous Sony Betabmax case, where Hollywood tried (and, thankfully for everyone including Hollywood, failed) to outlaw the VCR. The whole thing is worth reading, but here's an excerpt:
The "fair use" right to manage content has allowed the Internet to grow and new companies to be created. But the content lobby disagrees. They told Congress that copyright should stop an individual from sharing an email without the creator's permission. They argued that computers copy when storing temporarily and thus that many computer functions are illegal. They kept trying to sell multi-song CDs when consumers wanted only one song. They fought rentals of movies insisting that consumers buy movies. In short, they have tried to restrict, tax or bar every type of recording technology.

Thankfully, politicians said no and courts generally stood by the Sony Betamax principles. For these reasons we have the Internet, camcorders, digital cameras, MP3 players, DVRs, removable computer storage and copy-and-edit functions on computers. And thus we have world-leading companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, TiVo and Apple.

American innovation is not just about content creation. It is also about inventions that allow society to benefit from the uses of content, for which Congress grants a limited monopoly in the form of a copyright. The right to control this content does not include the right to [limit] invention and innovation. This is what the Supreme Court held in 1984, and this is why we have these inventions today.

"Piracy" is not every unauthorized use of content. Nor does copyright grant a monopoly over all uses. Someone who legitimately acquires content (buys a CD or DVD) should have the right to use that content so long as it is not for a commercial purpose. Calling unauthorized uses "piracy" and equating such use with "theft" - as if it were stealing clothing - is sloppy. If you steal a dress from a shop owner, then the shop owner cannot sell that dress. If you use a copyrighted work without permission, then at worst the creator has lost an additional potential sale - unlikely if someone is simply excerpting from their own CDs.

But defenders of expanded copyright restrictions imply that content owners have been on a losing streak and have few tools at their disposal. Wrong.

Copyright owners have successfully intimidated entrepreneurs with ideas that involve fair use of content. Billions of dollars of "damages" for no harm? Yes. Copyright laws and damage provisions have mushroomed to create huge potential liability for good-faith innovation.

Consistently, lawmakers raise the stakes for infringement, even if there is no evidence of harm to content owners. A single infringement found later to be "willful" can cost $150,000. Multiply that by each work in a service provider's library that a personal computer, a software program, or a DVR might be claimed to "infringe" and you are into the tens of billions of dollars. This chokes innovation and begs a more reasonable law that protects small business and products and software, offered by legitimate companies, with new uses not yet evaluated by the courts.
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Filed Under: copyright, gary shapiro, innovation


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2009 @ 9:11am

    Re: A Counter Case

    Have you considered that, in part, the reason the price of a CD didn't drop (and didn't become cheaper in digital formats online) is because of the high rates of piracy?

    The money has to be made somewhere. In essence, it is exactly the same logic as Mike suggesting that artists can raise the prices on scarce goods, in some ways. It comes down to the sucker mentality, really - the more people that "borrow" music, the more the money has to be made somewhere else.

    Put another way, if we consider that "borrowed" music represents even 75% of what people control individually these days, you could drop the price of an online download to $2.50 and the record companies would make the same amount of money. It is unrealistic, because even if the price was 10 cents, a majority of people would still infringe - they don't have any intention of ever buying music. So the point is moot, they want the music because they can have it, not because they intend to spend money for it.

    So each of those people in theory is harm, because they obtained the music without ever having intent to buy it, and then they have likely actively shared it with other people. At some point, they hit someone who might have purchased a given album, and instead takes the free downloaded copy and doesn't spend the money on that artist on that day. That is the harm right there.

    Quite simply, the harm is a long term greater change in mentality, where the vast majority of people under 25 think that music IS free, and that it actually has little more than a transient value for them, play it and forget it.

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