29 Feb 2012

Public Knowledge Building Consensus for Copyright Reform

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Public Knowledge is a group I have worked against for some time in the telecom space. They are, to be sure, far less radical than their cousins at Free Press, but their approach to much of telecom policy seems misguided. I must give credit where it is due, however, and acknowledge their work on copyright reform. As Matthew Lasar at Ars Technica points out, PK has just released an “Internet Blueprint” to build consensus for copyright reform.

The recent rejection of the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) as methods of dealing with digital piracy and counterfeit goods dealt a significant blow to efforts to reform our outdated content protections. During the battle over those bills, both sides trotted out scores of the aggrieved to plead the case for reform.

Unfortunately, as is so frequently the case in policy fights, neither side was willing to work with the other and instead engaged in an all-or-nothing approach to the issue.  When you go with all-or-nothing, you’ll frequently get nothing.

PK, however, seems to be beating the consensus drum to some extent.  While this is an infrequent tune from them, it seems to be headed in the right direction this time.

Their suggestions for reform include such common-sense solutions as the allowance for “breaking” DRM locks on DVDs if the resulting use is not illegal.  This is one of the weird areas of copyright law that I would love to see changed.

About two years ago I began converting my DVD collection for use over iTunes, AppleTV and my iPad.  It made no sense to me that I was prevented from watching my home movie collection in a convenient format (streaming to my TV from iTunes) without having to break the law first.

You see, the act of converting that movie to a digital file is illegal. It’s not the possession of the two copies that’s an issue, it’s the process of conversion that can result in punishment.

Reforming that aspect of the DMCA makes sense. The industry would be better off working with software makers to create an embeddable watermark in the conversion process that could identify the original creator.  That way you could track down actual offenders.

Without legal decryption, however, the options available for monitoring distribution of such files are zero.

PK has some other ideas including shortening the effective length of copyright protection and allowing for more fair use.  The site also allows you to weigh in with your own suggestions. It’s a good example of consensus building in public policy and I applaud Gigi Sohn and crew for their effort.

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