A short, sweet summary of the digital copyright issues we are always babbling about, from Robert MacMillan in the Washington Post:
- Buying an album or watching a film used to mean going to the music store or the movies, renting a video, maybe checking out the Columbia House catalog.
Those were the ’90s, the good old days, before the Internet’s takeoff.
Now, millions of people worldwide purchase and download the goods from Web sites. But big business didn’t rush to embrace the Internet as a medium for selling music and software. Rather, that spark was lit by the oddly named, yet irresistible Napster.
….Rhetoric aside, the immediate future promises a mixed bag.
Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) is leading an effort to buttress fair-use rights, making sure that back-up copies of personal software and other content won’t invite a subpoena from the recording industry. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) is proposing similar legislation for distance-learning and other educational purposes.
The problem, as Boucher readily admits, is that his bill is not riding any groundswells of support among his colleagues. There is more support for talk about the subject than real action, especially with the debut last week of an intellectual property caucus.
The U.S. Copyright Office is taking its own look at whether fair-use rights are too restricted, and could recommend changes to the DMCA.
Outside the Beltway, Apple’s iTunes paid music service is attracting rave reviews, while Listen.com and similar services work on harnessing the Windows world. Consumers’ acceptance, notably of iTunes, says to many observers that paid online downloads might have a future.
The RIAA continues to pursue pirates in the hopes that a few high-profile examples of prosecutions or settlements will drive the hardcore thieves underground. And the MPAA is learning from the music industry’s problems, girding its resources to battle against the small but growing market for pirated Internet films.
But it’s the kids who continue to take advantage of the latest technology out there — not as a new trick, but as something accepted and tacitly expected. They are the ones driving the market for digital downloads, which Reston, Va.-based ComScore Networks estimated was worth $545 million last year. Where they go, so go the consumer dollars that copyright law was supposed to harness in the first place.
Heavy-handed governmental protection of copyright, as suggested by the deranged Hatch or industry sycophants Lamar Smith and Howard Berman, do far more harm than good, even assuming their goals are appropriate. There is public good obtained from these debates and outrages, however, citizens are becoming aware of the issues and the fact that they have a clear, tangible stake in these matters.