Rep. Lofgren: A Real Antitrust Issue That Needs Scrutiny Is Copyright

from the about-time... dept

We talk here quite frequently about the fact that copyright (and patents) are gov't granted monopolies, and should be watched carefully because of that. Historically, economically speaking, gov't granted monopolies are bad for innovation and the economy. However, over the last few decades, there's been a big push by those who benefit from monopoly rents to try to redefine them as "intellectual property" rather than the more accurate description as a gov't granted monopoly. For the most part, our elected officials have bought into that language shift. Could that finally be changing back to a recognition that copyrights are monopolies and deserve the same scrutiny as any other economic monopoly? Today we saw a small move in that direction with a Congressional Rep admitting that copyrights are a monopoly and deserve scrutiny from the Judicial Dept. for that very reason.

I'm at the always-excellent State of the Net West event today, and the second discussion is about Antitrust in the Internet Era, and the discussion was introduced and led by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, who had a number of surprising (in a good way) remarks. On traditional antitrust issues, she's worried that antitrust actions aren't being used to stop anti-competitive behavior but for anti-competitive purposes. She notes that many in Congress don't really understand the purpose and reasoning behind antitrust and assume that dominance or marketshare automatically means there's an antitrust problem. And, of course, there is the problem of regulatory capture. So, she notes that you'll see elected officials basically read out talking points on antitrust issues from competitors -- rather than actually looking at whether or not there's real harm to the market. So, she suggests that the framework for antitrust issues should be looking at innovation and whether or not that's happening or is being hindered. Of course, the cynical out there (you know who you are) might suggest that these sound sorta like Google's talking points... Either way, she says she's trying to set up a seminar for the Judiciary Committee about antitrust, to get them better educated about the real issues related to antitrust, and that seems like a good thing.

However, much more interesting and unexpected were her brief comments at the end of her remarks, where she took on copyright, noting that it is a gov't granted monopoly that deserves antitrust scrutiny. She said, "Let's face it, copyright extension these days is 'limited' to the life of Mickey Mouse." And yes, there was sarcasm in her voice over the word "limited." The guy sitting next to me who works at Disney started shuffling uncomfortably.... Lofgren went on to say that copyright is being used to put up barriers to competition and innovation and is an issue that antitrust regulators really should be scrutinizing. This is really surprising, but really good to hear. Lofgren has been one of the (very) few elected officials who actually does "get" copyright issues, but this is the first time I've heard any elected official recognize that copyright is a monopoly/antitrust issue that deserves serious scrutiny for the way it's so frequently abused for anticompetitive purposes.
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Filed Under: anticompetitive, antitrust, copyright, monopoly, zoe lofgren

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    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2009 @ 12:49pm

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