ArtsWatch: Justice Department Announces Intellectual Property Task Force

Entertainment industry welcomes fresh federal commitment to IP issues
February 22, 2010 -- 10:29 am PST
By Philip Merrill /

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 @ and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced the formation of a Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property on Feb. 12, including representatives throughout the department — the criminal and civil divisions are both participating — as well as the FBI. (link) National Music Publishers' Association President/CEO David Israelite said, "The importance of this kind of department-wide cooperation cannot be overstated, both operationally and as a signal of the Attorney General's commitment to tackling the issue." In addition to coordinating with state and local agencies and expanding civil enforcement, the task force will improve engagement with international efforts and Justice's partner federal agencies including the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Communications Commission, and also assist the newly created position of Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator. The task force also won praise from the Copyright Alliance, MPAA and RIAA but drew a stern warning from Public Knowledge President Gigi B. Sohn, who said, "we believe it would be a mistake, and a misuse of government resources, for the Department to pursue cases against non-commercial consumer activity." This sensitivity relates to the task force's formation having been spurred by Vice President Joe Biden's December roundtable with entertainment executives where no consumer representatives were present. (link) The counter-argument can also be made that consumer piracy is too widespread not to be included in comprehensive efforts to protect U.S. IP.

On Feb. 16 the Obama administration's push for broadband adoption took a step forward as the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration released a preview of incoming census data with the title "Digital Nation: 21st Century America's Progress Toward Universal Broadband Internet Access." (link) It is worth comparing the October 2009 adoption levels with those two years earlier in order to take a step back from the policy rhetoric implied by the title and contained in the report's presentation of data. In October 2007, 61.7 percent of households had Internet connections and 50.8 percent of these were broadband. More recently, 68.7 percent of households had Internet connections and 63.5 percent of these were broadband, meaning more people now have broadband than had any Internet connection at all two years earlier. From the universal broadband perspective, it is important to look more deeply at the details. For example, Free Press Research Director S. Derek Turner said, "The report shows that though we've made some strides in closing the rural-urban digital divide, we've made little progress in connecting more racial and ethnic minorities or lower-income Americans." (link) The Obama Administration's broadband-for-all policy has much to commend it. However, most countries with higher broadband adoption rates are smaller to begin with and their governments heavily subsidized the build-out of Internet infrastructure. The United States' free-market approach has underserved rural areas and cash-strapped consumers. Additionally, a major incentive to paying for broadband has been all of the great entertainment choices that are available online for free. An argument can be made that the U.S. music industry has been sacrificed at the altar of increasing broadband adoption.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski previewed several recommendations from the National Broadband Plan (scheduled for release next month) in a Feb. 16 speech to regulatory utility commissioners (link) and a blog posting the next day. (link) Quantitative recommendations include the "100 squared initiative" — 100 million households to have ultra-fast 100 Mbs connections — and for 90 percent of households to have broadband Internet service. Reuters interviewed several telecommunications executives who scoffed at the idea that goals like these could be reached through business models supported primarily by paying customers. (link) Genachowski said, "There is a noble precedent for this. When the 1934 Communications Act was signed by President Roosevelt in the midst of the Great Depression, only 32 percent of American households had telephone service. But the President and the country made a commitment to get everyone affordable phone service. Today we should do no less with respect to high-speed Internet access."

On Feb. 15 consumer advocates Public Knowledge launched a project to develop proposed model legislation called the Copyright Reform Act, undertaken with the assistance of Stanford University Law School's Cyberlaw Clinic and U.C. Berkeley Law School's Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic. (link) In contrast with other proposals to revamp copyright law based at U.C. Berkeley Law School, Public Knowledge's intent with the CRA is "to develop a more limited, targeted set of changes to the present copyright statute. These reforms focus on areas where an imbalance is both clear and amenable to incremental change." (link) Public Knowledge has refined its activism and won the respect of many legislators over the past few years.

The Copyright Alliance blog called attention to a pro-copyright point of view coming from a faculty member at U.C. Berkeley Law School. (link) On Feb. 17 The Media Institute published a short paper online by Prof. Peter S. Menell titled "File-Sharing Copyrighted Works Without Authorization: A Misguided Social Movement." (link)


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