An all-Republican panel of legislators finally got to the heart of what's important here at CES. Of course, I mean fair use. What else is there, right? We couldn't find out where the Ds were.
Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Cal.), member of the House Judiciary Committee, called for Congress to enact legislation to specify what exactly fair use means. Issa said the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was flaws because it didn't make more clear the fair use concept, and created the misimpression that fair use had been taken away. The law, he said, created the odd situation in which he, personally, could use software to hack a program to make a legal copy of something, but that he couldn't use tools devised by others for the same purpose.
What's needed, Issa said, is an "acceptable, enforceable" level of fair use for today that is in line with the expectations of consumers. Congress should act on the issue "sooner rather than later" because of the speed with which consumer devices can interact and share material. "The genie is already out of the bottle with MP3s," he said. "We need to lock in something close to what the public will accept," Issa said, adding that both sides [tech and content] are losing every day as the public keeps advancing its idea of what constitutes fair use, which may not comport with what either industry had in mind.
Issa said that a fair use system could include allow "a little bit of copying" but not commercial transfers. He said levels would need to be set for fair use, but didn't offer a specific suggestion. Issa also said a software "flag" could be used to enforce the personal copying aspect of fair use.
House Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), said that if the Judiciary panel got serious about a bill, his committee would take a look at it, but said also that it wasn't high on the food chain: "I don't know if the controversy can be resolved this legislative term." Among other items, the telecom rewrite will take precedence, that that will take place over the first half of the year.
The panel also tackled the issue of net neutrality, with Upton and others endorsing a market place solution. Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) in particular argued vigorously against new regulations for net neutrality or for other telecom issues, including subsidies for the DTV transition.
Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.), was more protective of rural areas, noting that in some towns consumers don't have a choice of broadband services.
Other notes: Gary Shapiro's speech hasn't been posted to the Web yet. When it is, it will be here:
The lights were out in the theatre during the speech, and it may be my note-taking skills are a little rusty, so check out the transcript when it gets posted.
We caught up with Verizon Chmn. Ivan Seidenberg for a couple of minutes to ask about the Ed Whitacre controversy. Seidenberg's view was that companies like Google and Yahoo "make markets for us" by increasing demand for high-speed services. However, he still expressed concern over the fact that Verizon works on a subscription basis, while Google and others have an advertising base. "That's something we need to work out," he said, ending a brief but cordial conversation. Another Seidenberg quote -- He started his presentation by noting that most people in the audience probably had at least one, and maybe more, cell phones or other devices with them, said: "Please turn them on." He likes to hear them working.
Having just recovered from seeing Tom Hanks, we were absolutely thrilled by the rumor that Tom Cruise will make an appearance on behalf of Google tomorrow. No word if true, or, if true, whether he will bring his own couch on which to jump.