Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Senate can ram this copyright bill up their ass

It seems like every two months congress tries to push through some horrible bill like this. Let's hope the CEA (Consumer Electronics Association) can stop it. It wouldn't hurt to write your congressperson.

The bill lumps together several pending copyright bills including HR4077, the Piracy Deterrence and Education Act, which would criminally punish a person who "infringes a copyright by ... offering for distribution to the public by electronic means, with reckless disregard of the risk of further infringement." Critics charge the vague language could apply to a person who uses the popular Apple iTunes music-sharing application.

The bill would also permit people to use technology to skip objectionable content -- like a gory or sexually explicit scene -- in films, a right that consumers already have. However, under the proposed law, skipping any commercials or promotional announcements would be prohibited. The proposed law also includes language from the Pirate Act (S2237), which would permit the Justice Department to file civil lawsuits against alleged copyright infringers.


Update - here is a letter I sent to Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, and Barbara Boxer:

Hello Nancy -

I'm writing to you today because there is a bill, the "Intellectual Property Protection Act," which is set to come before congress in the coming days, which I think you need to take a look at, and hopefully oppose. It combines the provisions of several copyright-related bills of the past few years, and I think it would be damaging to the electronics industry, of which I am a part, in your district. It would also stifle innovation in media content and services, and yes, even harm artists.

What these bills intend to do is to lock in the current business model of advertising-supported content. It would PROHIBIT skipping commercials in recorded content, and prohibit any devices which, in the view of current large-scale copyright holders, "encourage" copyright infringement. And to add insult to injury, it would have our already-overtaxed Justice Department take on the cost of punishing these "infringers."

As an electrical engineer in Silicon Valley who has worked on multiple innovative consumer electronics devices, I know the danger of kow-towing to the big Hollywood media companies. They have business models which they like (ad-supported, copy-protection, etc), and they would like to codify these models into national criminal law. This WILL stifle innovation, and in some cases, it already has. I worked for ReplayTV a few years ago, and watched the company wither away, its stock price held hostage under threat of lawsuit for a commercial-skipping feature that had been available on VCRs for twenty years. Members of the MPAA have even mused that going to the bathroom while commercials are playing shouldn't be permitted. This lack of imagination for new business models (pay-per-view, TV-on-demand, flat-fee, etc) is now about to be coded into law. The fact is, it may be hard for the large copyright holders to imagine a world without ad-supported TV, and maybe they won't be the ones to bring it to us; but it is not the job of congress or the Justice Department to prop up their profits. As for the record industry - the jury is out as to whether filesharing has hurt or helped them. However, as someone who is also in an independent band (http://www.societyofrockets.com ), I can say that, for myself, I have no problem with people sharing my music on a p2p network. In fact, I would wager that for 90% of the bands out there (the 90% who don't belong to one of the 3-5 major media companies), they don't care either. The RIAA would have us ban entire product catagories to protect their profits against what they see as lost sales.

The ridiculous thing is that there are already widely-used copyright infringement laws which allow these companies to sue any infringers for large sums of money. The RIAA has sued all sorts of people, from children as young as ten years old, to eighty-year-old grandmothers, for sharing their content on p2p networks. Rather than having to deal with this expense and bad PR, the RIAA and others would rather spend tax dollars and Justice Department time prosecuting infringers.

I will send a copy of this email to both Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, but I think that since they represent the whole state, and Hollywood has poured huge sums of money into their campaigns, they will be less receptive to this message. As someone who represents the Bay Area, you have consituents who work at places like TiVo, Apple, Microsoft, and many others who will be adversely effected by this proposed legislation. Another thing to consider is this - The entire movie industry had revenues around $40 billion in 2003 (up from $36.5 billion in 2002, despite the existence of all this "infringement"). In the same period, the US revenues for consumer electronics in 2003 were $100 billion and the market for semiconductors was $156 billion.

I hope that you will carefully consider, and ultimately reject, this, and all such bills which protect the profits of an industry which has displayed a shockingly-low level of imagination, and seeks to stifle the industries which continue to drive economic growth in your district.

Thank you for your time. Feel free to contact me if you would like any more information or clarification about this subject.

-David Isbister
-Hardware Engineer and Musician
-San Francisco, CA


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