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. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 31 May 2009 @ 1:37pm

    Re: Shapiro is no saint

    Gary Shapiro is no saint. He's a guy who wants to sell consumer electronics, and sees copyright as a hindrance.

    I happen to agree with him, but lets not pretend the guy has any principles other than profit. He doesn't give a crap about "consumer rights." He wants to sell product!


    Honestly, that had been my first impression too, which is why I didn't always pay attention to him. But I've spoken with him several times now and I'm convinced -- he's for real. He's not just saying this stuff. He's honestly concerned about the consumer experience.

    Furthermore, you could easily see someone at CEA siding with the entertainment industry on these things (falsely) believing that you need copyright to make more content which makes the CE devices more valuable. But Gary has realized how much copyright stifles innovation and he's speaking up about it.

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