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Big media wants bills for more punitive enforcement, new media, internet firms, and activists fight back

Many senior justices complain the copyright system in the U.S. is "broken", with the law struggling to deal with a new digital reality in which information is more easily shared.  

Software copyright is often used (or abused) to try to prevent customers from modifying (jailbreaking) devices they legally own -- actions that violate provisions of the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) [PDF], which modified Title 17 of the U.S. Code.  Another topic of controversy is backup copies.  Industry officials argue that the DMCA is explicit -- no backups are allowed -- and insist customers should simply repurchase content if their physical media is damaged.  Copyright law has also been at time abused to take down legitimate websites, sometimes even as an anticompetitive tactic by rivals.

U.S. Copyright Office chief Maria Pallante called on "Congress to once again think big" and enact copyright reform, crafting "the next great copyright act."

Congress building
Congress is taking up copyright reform -- but which way will its reforms go is the pressing question. [Image Source: U.S. Congress]

At a celebration of World Intellectual Property Day at the Library of CongressU.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (D-Virg.) called on his House colleagues to heed the call, remarking:

The Internet has enabled copyright owners to make available their works to consumers around the world, but has also enabled others to do so without any compensation for copyright owners. Efforts to digitize our history so that all have access to it face questions about copyright ownership by those who are hard, if not impossible, to locate. There are concerns about statutory license and damage mechanisms.

Federal judges are forced to make decisions using laws that are difficult to apply today. Even the Copyright Office itself faces challenges in meeting the growing needs of its customers - the American public. ... The goal of these hearings will be to determine whether the laws are still working in the digital age.

This may be a case of being careful what you wish for.  Big media has paid a tremendous amount of campaign donations to members of Congress.  For example, between 2005 and 2011 large media interests paid members of the U.S. Senate $86M USD -- roughly a tenth of all their campaign costs.

Bribe under table
Big media is slipping Congress loads of cash in hopes of more punitive copyright policy.
[Image Source: i-Sight]

Thus any copyright reform may come in the direction of furthering big media's dream goals, such as instituting stiff penalties for customers who use software to crack digital rights management and burn backup copies.  This is certainly one debate to watch closely in coming months.

As for Rep. Goodlatte, it's hard to tell where his interests lies.  He's received large donations from Google Inc. (GOOG) and Pandora Media Inc. (P) on one side of the fence, and from Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) on the other side of the fence [source].  Thus he may be about as close to an unbiased party as you get in Congress these days, given that the special interest payouts (may) have balanced each other out.

Source: U.S. House Judiciary Committee



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By brucek2 on 4/25/2013 4:24:22 PM , Rating: 2
The Constitution had it right from the beginning -- the purpose of this law is to "promote the arts and sciences" and the mechanism is to give exclusive rights for a "limited time."

Somehow this smart, balanced approach has been corrupted. The "limited time" is all but out the window with rights lasting multiple generations. And the "promote" has become "make sure nearly all benefits accrue to business (even long after the artist or scientist is dead), and only to the people to the extent they consume in the manner chosen by the business, and pay the amount demanded by the business."

I think the goal ought to start with the citizens. Citizens are enriched by arts & sciences and its good that creators have incentives to pursue them. But the goal of the law should be to do just enough to encourage that pursuit, while also seeking to maximize the eventual distribution of all creations for the good of all.

Today digital distribution is mostly thought of for entertainment like music & movies. But over the next decades and generations, we'll have "burners" for more than just CDs and DVDs -- its not impossible we'll be able to "burn" clothes, medicine, basic goods, and who knows what else.

It could be the start of vastly improving the quality of life for all the globe -- but will we use it for that purpose, or will we insist on trying to keep the systems that were forged from the now-obsolete limits of a prior age?




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