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SOPA Is Dead, Says MPAA’s Chris Dodd, But What Comes Next?

By Parker Higgins and Trevor Timm | EFF | October 4, 2012

Earlier this week, Chris Dodd, a 30-year veteran of the Senate and now chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), spoke in San Francisco at an event aimed at addressing “the shared future of the content and technology industries.” It’s a testament to the continuing impact of January’s blackout protests against Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that Dodd should frame the discussion this way, and his conciliatory words during the talk struck a refreshing tone. But given that less than a year ago he was the nation’s leading advocate for a bill that would have censored large parts of the Internet, there’s still a long way to go.

Dodd made many positive comments during his speech, voicing strong support for freedom of speech online and calling on the content industry to move away from criminal actions against file-sharers. He also conceded that SOPA and PIPA are “dead,” and when pressed by EFF in discussion afterwards, he was emphatic that his organization no longer wanted to pursue legislation as the solution to the problems purportedly facing the content industry.

But let’s not forget that he serves as the chairman and CEO of one of the most influential lobbying groups in Washington, and that the actions of the industry have yet to back up his rhetoric. In fact, the evidence suggests the opposite is true.

After all, his words stand at odds with a statement in April that he was “confident” negotiations on SOPA 2.0 were taking place, and the MPAA is again distributing talking points to members of Congress touting copyright maximalism. We also know SOPA’s author Lamar Smith tried to re-introduce components of that bill again in July. And even now, the content industry’s “six strikes” agreement with ISPs is moving forward, and US Trade Representatives are secretly negotiation dangerous new copyright rules into international agreements like the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).

Dodd’s statements, such as “I would do anything and everything I could to protect the vitality of the internet,” stand in stark contrast to the content industry’s advocacy for the due-process-free domain name seizures conducted by Homeland Security during the past two years. Websites accused of copyright infringement on flimsy evidence were censored for a more than a year before the Justice Department abandoned the cases with no explanation. The Justice Department’s prosecution of Megaupload, a case now falling apart, also led to many innocent people losing property they stored online.

Unfortunately, Dodd’s most impassioned advocacy for the First Amendment came not when sticking up for the Internet, but when defending his job lobbying. The man who once pledged he would not become a lobbyist when he left the Senate, said freedom of speech is “critically important” because it allows lobbyists — now “experts” in his view — to inform legislators about the issues. But when members of the public speak out in one of the largest grassroots efforts in US history, Dodd and the MPAA derided it as a “stunt” and a “gimmick” and accused companies that participated in the protest of an “abuse of power.”

But more broadly, Dodd’s speech indicated that the MPAA and other content groups still remain fiercely opposed to evidence-based policy-making, in legislation and other areas. Even as Dodd pulled the heartstrings with stirring words about the middle-class jobs that the entertainment industry creates, he continued to cite bogus stats about the industry. Repeatedly he referred to the 2.1 million such jobs, despite the fact that the Congressional Research Service has pegged the number at around 374,000 — an order of magnitude off. Blatantly bogus numbers like these have become a hallmark of the content industry efforts to pervert the copyright system, so much so that the Government Accountability Office recommended other government bodies should stop citing MPAA-backed studies.

Dodd’s speech echoed the recent messages from other content industry representatives: the content and the tech industries have to work together, not as adversaries, to make “an Internet that works for everyone.” Here again, the disregard for ordinary users makes a nice commitment ring hollow. For one thing, the content industry missed plenty of opportunities before introducing SOPA and PIPA to get input from Internet users and the tech industry. They even refused to show up at the negotiating table when the tech industry was willing to work with them. But more fundamentally, Hollywood’s new rhetoric reframes “innovation” as “innovation by permission” — and the public is worse off for it.

The fundamental goals of copyright are sound: it’s a good thing when policy promotes the progress of science and the useful arts. But by continuing to reject evidence about how copyright works, by relegating freedom of speech to economic concerns, and by leaving the public out of the discussion, Dodd and the MPAA are working against those noble goals.

October 5, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , | 1 Comment

Stopping the Campaign of Misinformation: New Study Affirms Less Copyright Restrictions Benefit the Economy

By Trevor Timm | EFF | September 21, 2012

A new study from Australia presents the latest evidence that loosening copyright restrictions not only enables free speech, but can improve an economy as well. The study, published by the Australian Digital Alliance, indicated that if Australia expanded copyright exceptions like fair use, along with strengthening safe harbor provisions, the country could potentially add an extra $600 million to their economy.

In addition, the report details how vital copyright exceptions are to the Australian economy as a whole. As ADA’s executive officer and copyright advisor Ellen Broad told EFF, “Australia’s sectors relying on copyright exceptions currently contribute 14% of our GDP, around $182 billion and they’re growing rapidly. It’s essential that Australia’s copyright policy framework adequately support innovation and growth of these sectors in the digital environment.”

Given how much Australia’s burdensome and confusing copyright law has held up innovation, EFF is encouraged by the fact that copyright reform is being considered and debated in the public sphere.

But more broadly, this is just the latest evidence disproving a major talking point used by the MPAA and RIAA anytime copyright laws come up for a vote: that tough copyright laws are good for the economy. During the SOPA debate, organizations such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) claimed over and over again that the restrictive laws are needed to save and create jobs. Yet the Australian study confirms similar research done by CIAA in the US, showing how important fair use exceptions are to the economy. In fact, fair use accounted “for more than $4.5 trillion in annual revenue” in the US and exceeding the economic benefits of copyright laws themselves.

Unfortunately, this new evidence probably won’t stop the MPAA and RIAA from continuing to peddle misinformation about the economics of copyright law in Australia, the US, or elsewhere. Currently, the MPAA is distributing materials to members of the US Congress—perhaps in another attempt to gin up support for SOPA 2.0—extolling how important new, restrictive laws will allegedly help them create jobs.

But these new talking points are short on statistics—perhaps for a reason. MPAA and RIAA have used drastically exaggerated numbers and discredited studies for years to claim that laws like SOPA and PIPA—or agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership—are vital for the economy. In reality, SOPA would’ve cost many more jobs than it saved, given it would have weakened or eliminated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) safe harbors that have allowed Internet companies like Google and Facebook to thrive for the last decade. That’s why when a survey was taken of venture capitalists, they “overwhelmingly” indicated they would stop investing in tech companies—the one of the economy’s fastest growing sectors—if SOPA were to pass.

Since the economic numbers don’t add up, advocates for draconian copyright laws have resorted to other misleading arguments. For example, this week, a Fox News editorial erroneously argued that intellectual property protection is a “forgotten” constitutional right and “it is the obligation” of Congress to pass laws like SOPA to protect rightsholders. Of course, the problem with SOPA was that it was written so broadly it would’ve ended up censoring millions of Americans who never even thought about copyright, but that’s beside the point. The US Constitution does mention intellectual property but not in the context of an individual right or mandate to Congress. Specifically, it says:

Congress shall have power . . . To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.

A plain reading of the clause indicates that Congress has the authority to use copyright law to promote creativity—if they so choose. There’s no mandate for Congress to pass any copyright law that comes their way, and there’s no clause guaranteeing the rights of movie studios and record labels to maximize their profits. Meanwhile, creativity—far from being stifled without more copyright laws on the books—is currently thriving. There’s been a marked increase in the amount of movies, music, and books produced over the last decade, as this comprehensive study done by CCIA and Techdirt’s Mike Masnick shows.

So while huge legacy corporations may find it harder to keep a grip on their market share, it’s not because people have stopped creating and selling art. It’s quite the opposite: they’re creating more by incorporating fair use, cutting out the middlemen, and bringing their art directly to their fans through the Internet.

Unfortunately, all too often copyright maximalists, like the author in the Fox News editorials, put forth the idea that “lawlessness” prevails on the Internet, even though in the US and abroad there are many copyright laws already on the books. In the US alone, Congress has passed fifteen separate laws in the last thirty years alone strengthening the powers of rightsholders.

Most notably, the US DMCA gives power to copyright holders to force websites to take down any of their protected material. In fact, the DMCA gives disproportionate power to the rightsholders, often leading to abuse, and in turn, censoring material that is clearly protected free speech. As Techdirt noted, in Australia, their outdated and burdensome copyright system “is ill-equipped to cope with key Internet activities like search and indexing, caching and hosting, since they all involve incidental copying.”

Both countries would be better served by evidence-based policy that promoted the intended balance of copyright. After decades of unbalanced legislation, the evidence is clear, and points to relaxing copyright restrictions, not strengthening them.

For more on the debate over the economics of copyright see here and here.

September 21, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment