ArtsWatch: Fed Goes Big To Protect Copyright

Joint Strategic Plan launches comprehensive fight against piracy and counterfeiting
  • Victoria Espinel testifying before Senate Judiciary Committee on June 23
June 28, 2010 -- 4:48 am PDT
By Philip Merrill / GRAMMY.com

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ GRAMMY.com and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

On June 22 the Obama administration released its "2010 Joint Strategic Plan On Intellectual Property Enforcement" at an event featuring Vice President Joe Biden, Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel, Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Ron Kirk, Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Commenting on this unprecedented effort, RIAA Chairman/CEO Mitch Bainwol said, "The administration's report is a welcome step toward reversing the dangerous trajectory that has endangered America's creative community.... We look forward to working with the administration on the effective implementation of the report." The plan's scope is comprehensive and inspiring with dozens of practical action items organized within six categories. The item most applicable to domestic online piracy is "Facilitating Cooperation to Reduce Intellectual Property Infringement Occurring Over the Internet." The report reads: "The administration believes that it is essential for the private sector, including content owners, Internet service providers, advertising brokers, payment processors, and search engines, to work collaboratively, consistent with the antitrust laws, to address activity that has a negative economic impact and undermines U.S. businesses, and to seek practical and efficient solutions to address infringement. This should be achieved through carefully crafted and balanced agreements. Specifically, the administration encourages actions by the private sector to effectively address repeated acts of infringement, while preserving the norms of legitimate competition, free speech, fair process, and the privacy of users." Although addressing an often controversial subject, there seems to be something for everyone in that language and it reflects the broad and balanced approach that Espinel has pursued. Remarkably, leading consumer advocates Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge both had complimentary reactions alongside their tech-friendly advocacy positions. PK President and Co-Founder Gigi B. Sohn said Espinel's "findings show that she understands the concept of balance in copyright law at a time when others in the administration do not." It is no surprise that the most mouth-watering action item for these groups is the "Comprehensive Review of Existing Intellectual Property Laws to Determine Needed Legislative Changes," which will wrap up in about four months — an open door that will need to be carefully watched by advocates of strong copyright protections.

The Senate Judiciary Committee conducted the first-ever oversight hearing for Espinel's recently created position on June 23, giving her a warm reception and expressing willingness to consider tougher IP legislation. A second panel presented testimony from the AFL-CIO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the entertainment community — represented by Warner Bros. Entertainment Chairman/CEO Barry M. Meyer and music publisher Carlin America President/CEO Caroline Bienstock. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) focused his questions to Espinel on piracy in China and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) pushed on the issue of lax laws in Canada. Residual payments were brought up by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) followed by Klobuchar commenting on print residuals she receives and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) commenting on his movie residuals. Singer/songwriter Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) missed out on these discussions because he had left on other business. The senators generally agreed that residual and royalty payments were so different from the way most workers get paid and that the general public has a hard time understanding that this makes creative professionals especially vulnerable to piracy because IP workers get half or most of their money long after they have done the work. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) emphasized the need for better statistics and said, "It would not surprise me if we are on the losing end of the biggest criminal transfer of wealth in the history of the planet right now." Espinel recounted that she had been surprised by the scope of the problem. She said, "I should say even though I have done this work for a long time, I myself was surprised — when we went out to the public and asked to hear concerns and as I traveled around the country talking to companies — how broad the spectrum of American industries was to come forward to tell us that they were suffering, both small companies and big companies."

On June 23 Google-owned YouTube won a summary judgment ruling against Viacom in New York's U.S. District Court, finding that the site's use of infringing video in the 2007 case was protected by copyright law's safe-harbor exemption because the offending files were taken down after YouTube was notified. Reacting to the verdict, Viacom issued a statement that read: "We intend to seek to have these issues before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit as soon as possible. After years of delay, this decision gives us the opportunity to have the Appellate Court address these critical issues on an accelerated basis. We look forward to the next stage of the process."

In advance of an official announcement, Cnet News learned on June 23 that Electronic Frontier Foundation's noted advocate Fred von Lohmann will be departing the consumer advocacy organization to take a position at Google as senior copyright counsel.

On June 16–18 the American University Washington College of Law's Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property assembled an international team of experts to review the working draft of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement that was released by the U.S. Trade Representative in April. On June 23 this group issued a statement with hundreds of signatures — including dozens of IP professors and 11 members of European Parliament — disputing reassurances made by ACTA advocates. The statement read: "Recognizing that the terms of the agreement are under further closed-door negotiation over a text we do not have access to, a fair reading of the April 2010 draft leads to our conclusion that ACTA is hostile to the public interest in at least seven critical areas of global public policy: fundamental rights and freedoms; Internet governance; access to medicines; scope and nature of intellectual property law; international trade; international law and institutions; and democratic process."

 

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