Hollywood is in full force today on Capitol Hill,hosting "The Business of Show Business Industry Symposium"(pdf) with stars such as Sex, Lies & Videotape director Steven Soderbergh and An Officer and a Gentleman Director Taylor Hackford talking about how central copyright is to the business of movie making.
We don't disagree with that notion of course, but what we don't usually agree with Hollywood about is the means by, and the degree to which, government should protect those copyrights. Over the past 5 years, Hollywood and the recording industry have pushed numerous proposals in Congress, and they have tended to fall into several categories: 1) government technology mandates like the broadcast flag; 2) expanding secondary copyright liability (like the "Induce Act"); 3) expanding the permissions culture (e.g., licensing temporary or buffer copies); and 4) increasing punishment for copyright infringement that falls just short of death by hanging. The good news is that most of these efforts have failed. The bad news is that with a Democratic-controlled Congress and one year until a Presidential election, you can bet your mortgage that they will be pushing these, and other initiatives hard in 2007.
But as time goes on and the public's (and the content industry's) use of technology and digital media change, it makes it harder and harder to make the case for these proposals. Take, for example, our favorite technology mandate, the broadcast flag. For those newcomers to this blog, the FCC's 2003 broadcast flag rules would have given the government the power to dictate technological design, and as a result, limit lawful uses of digital technology. The rules would have required FCC pre-approval for every technology that could demodulate a digital TV signal, as well as for those technologies (like Digital Video Recorders or even cellphones) that are "downstream" from digital TV devices. Public Knowledge brought a court challenge on behalf of it and eight other public interest, library and cyberliberties organizations, and in May 2005 a federal appeals court struck down the rules. Hollywood has been trying to get Congress to reinstate it ever since.
Even assuming that there was ever a rationale for the broadcast flag, does it exist anymore? And would such a rule even be in the best interests of the content industries? Let's take a look: