Earlier this week, I went to see Rep. Bob Goodlatte speak at a State of the Net West
event in Palo Alto. It was basically a Q&A session, hitting on a variety of points concerning legislation that impacts the tech industry. Honestly, there wasn't too much surprising said, though he was clearly well-briefed and ready for a variety of questions on copyright, patents and privacy -- which were the main themes of the discussion. The one thing that really caught my attention was in response to a question about PROTECT IP asked by EFF lawyer Michael Barclay
. Goodlatte noted, correctly, that the current PROTECT IP bill being discussed is the one in the Senate, and that the House has yet to introduce its version, but will in the next few weeks. He claimed that the people working on the bill were definitely aware of the criticism being leveled at the Senate version, and he expected that people would be surprised at the House version. He insisted that it aimed to fix some of the problems of the Senate version, but that it might include some "other things" that might upset the tech community. We'll see what's in there when it's ready, though we've already heard that a version of S.978 -- the bill that can put people in jail for embedding YouTube videos
-- will be rolled into the House's version of PROTECT IP. Still, while admitting pretty clearly that the bill was "being driven by" the recording industry and the movie industry, he also noted that they "might not be too happy" with some of the things in the bill when it comes out.
I doubt they'll be too disappointed (other than being upset that it's not draconian enough), but his statements at least raised some basic questions about how you could fix PROTECT IP. Larry Downes takes a stab at the five essential changes needed to fix the bill
. He goes into more detail at that link, but the quick version:
- Don't destabilize the domain name system
- Leave search engines and hyperlinks out
- No private enforcement
- Correct ongoing abuses by DHS
- Clearly define "rogue" Web site
If I had to guess, I would think that the House bill might actually tackle number one, but I doubt any of the others are under serious consideration. There has been some push for number three, but the entertainment industry lobbyists are salivating so heavily over that one I can't see them giving it up. I haven't seen any indication that anyone (other than Rep. Lofgren) in the House seems to care about the DHS's abuses, so that's out.
But, really, a bigger question may be whether PROTECT IP is needed at all? I agree that the five changes listed above would be a massive improvement, and would make the bill significantly less objectionable. But, why is this even needed? In this era when we're supposed to be focused on evidence-based
copyright changes, the industry doesn't show any evidence of actual harm caused by these "rogue sites." They just insist that they must be "losing" billions. But that ignores the point made over and over again in the research: which is that this is a business model issue, not a legal issue. If the industry spent one-tenth the effort it spends on crafting bad legislation on actually innovating and creating services that people like, this wouldn't even be considered a problem at all.