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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  1. icon
    voxmanz (profile), 5 Aug 2009 @ 12:44pm

    Yes, the copyright issue has been abused by certain entities. I agree with many of these ideas. But if I write a song, I'm creating some kind of anti-innovation environment to say it's my song? Seriously? I think something can be shared and built upon without taking away the rights of an artist to say that the song they wrote is their song which they wrote. I'm concerned with
    this seemingly single-minded agenda to get rid of copyrights.
    I'm wary anytime someone takes a single-minded view on issues
    that are complex and multivalent. If you're single-minded,
    you'll miss the truth and hurt people in the process.
    I'm open to how this all pans out. I just want to make
    sure people are respected in their artistic vocation (as most people
    are in other vocations).

    I see Techdirt question certain things that have been accepted,
    perhaps unquestionably, in the past, yet also accepting unquestioningly
    certain things that could be questioned. And the picking and choosing
    seems to serve an agenda (I said "seems" I'm not saying you guys are bad people, and maybe the agenda is well-meaning). That concerns me. For example, I could
    easily challenge the accepted view that "property" or "physical goods"
    can belong to someone and have value, whereas intangibles are treated
    differently. If you talk to most Native Americans (with the traditional
    Native American view) they believe the idea of owning property,
    or "part of the land" is preposterous and nonsensical. Yet the
    assumption that something has value monetarily just because it's
    a physical good is just that - an assumption. It's a created idea
    that can be accepted or discarded, just like the idea of copyrights.
    Yet you guys assume it's valid (judging from past remarks), because it serves your argument.
    If everything was free, I'd be totally fine with getting rid of
    copyrights, etc. But we don't' live in that society, and why
    should artists be asked to make a sacrifice before everyone
    else (giving up a certain right - and whatever you say, it
    is a sacrifice and people would suffer. As much as you guys
    like to use Trent Reznor as an example, he said in his blog,
    concerning free downloading, "This sucks for artists." I don't
    see you quoting him on that much.)?

    Call it Socialism
    or whatever you want, but if you pay me enough to take care
    of my living costs and to fund my future projects, then
    sure, everyone can have my songs and enjoy them, remix,
    whatever for free. But you guys are pushing the whole marketplace
    driven ideology (along with some kind of utopian-seeming
    information should be free idea - which R.U. Sirius,
    one of the first proponents of that, now says he was
    WRONG about) while trying to take away one of the things
    that helps artists to protect their market commodities (yes,
    you say that the Constitution wasn't meant to protect artists,
    then we should amend it so it does).

    I see some clear contradictions. And when that
    happens, it's partly because the issue is complex,
    and partly because everything is being driven by
    an agenda, or ideology. Danger Will Robinson!!!

    Cheers,
    Robert

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