Posts by Jodie Griffin

USTA Supports Net Neutrality, Except When It Doesn’t

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You may know that Public Knowledge recently intervened in support of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the net neutrality litigation. As more legal filings now start to arrive in that lawsuit, one filing called a Statement of Issues to Be Raised, from the US Telecom Association (USTA), sheds some light on what at least some ISPs really think about net neutrality.

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Transparency in Copyright: Needed Now More Than Ever

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As many who follow technology policy and copyright probably already know, we are in the middle of several tremendously important policy debates in copyright law. The Library of Congress is considering proposals to allowing people to break digital locks for certain uses. The U.S. Trade Representative is negotiating a huge free trade agreement, including a copyright chapter, that may get “fast-track” approval from Congress. The Copyright Royalty Board continues to collect data and set rates for statutory licenses used by all sorts of companies that make and distribute music. And, of course, Congress has been conducting hearings and considering proposals for reforming our federal copyright law.

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Lessons from Fire Island: Running Useful and Responsible Trials for the Phone Network Transition

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As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) begins considering technical trial proposals for the transition of the phone network to Internet Protocol (IP)-based technology, it’s important to remember the lessons learned from Verizon’s ill-fated attempt to force Fire Island residents onto its untested Voice Link service. To help memorialize these lessons, Public Knowledge has released the paper The Phone Network Transition: Lessons from Fire Island.

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Copyright Week Day 1: Shining a Light on Copyright Policymaking

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It's Copyright Week! From today through Saturday, a number of groups around the Web will be exchanging ideas, information, and actions about how to fix copyright law for the better. Each day will be devoted to a different aspect of copyright law. For more on Copyright Week, see here.

Today's focus is on transparency. More than ever, copyright policymakers must improve transparency in copyright policy--including both listening to and talking to the public.


As copyright law increasingly touches so many aspects of our economy and day-to-day lives, it’s crucial that our copyright policies are formed openly and publicly. Copyright law affects everyone—both when creating and experiencing copyrighted works—and so everyone should have the opportunity to inform themselves about and give input on the policies promoted by our representatives in government. But especially when we see copyright policy being pushed into secretive massive trade agreements, it is clear that the fight for transparency in copyright lawmaking is not over.

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100th Anniversary of the Kingsbury Commitment

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Today marks the 100th anniversary of an agreement called the Kingsbury Commitment that embodied some of the most fundamental principles that underly our communications networks.


In honor of its 100th anniversary, it's worth pausing to remember how the Kingsbury Commitment set a national goal to ensure interconnection and provide at least basic telephone service to all Americans. Our country has not wavered from that fundamental commitment since. As we now move into new IP-based phone networks and communications infrastructure, we must hold fast to this commitment to make sure no one is left behind in the phone network transition.

What Is The Kingsbury Commitment?

The Kingsbury Commitment is a deal struck in 1913 between American Telegraph & Telephone (now AT&T) and the Department of Justice, settling an antitrust investigation into AT&T's market power, especially over long-distance phone service.

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Copyright Reclamation and Term Extensions: Holiday Edition

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If artists don’t follow the technical procedures to reclaim their copyrights correctly, copyright term extensions just turn into a windfall for their middlemen.


In keeping with the holiday spirit, the most recent court ruling on copyright reclamation rules revolves around the publishing rights for “Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town.” Unfortunately for the composers’ heirs, a mistake in attempting to reclaim their copyright back in 1981 means that the economic windfall of 20 extra years of copyright protection will go straight to the song’s publisher.

Copyright law is meant to benefit artists as a means of ultimately serving the public good. Unfortunately, this case shows how the system still sometimes fails on both counts. Copyright term extensions have kept Santa Claus Is Coming To Town out of the public domain for almost 80 years now, while a procedural error has also kept the copyright out of the hands of the composers’ heirs. As a result, the middleman (here, EMI’s publishing arm) enjoys a windfall of profits while the composers and the public both lose out.

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What We Need to See in a Pilot Program Proposal

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Carriers proposing phone network transition pilot programs must explain to the Federal Communications Commission and the public how they'd like to run a trial in meaningful detail before we can even begin to consider their ideas.


Last week we talked about some key consumer protections that must be included in the FCC's pilot programs to test-run specific aspects of the phone network transition. In addition to proposing certain pilot programs itself, the FCC used its Public Notice to ask any carriers and other stakeholders that want to see other types of pilot programs submit detailed plans explaining exactly what those trials would entail.

In part, this seemed like a response to AT&T, which has been asking the FCC to let it run trials since last November but has yet to give any meaningful details about what these trials would actually look like, what information they would give us, and how they would be conducted.

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What’s In a Pilot Program?

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Pilot programs for the phone network transition must first and foremost protect everyday consumers.


As the conversation about the phone network transition to Internet Protocol (IP)-based technologies continues, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is figuring out how to construct pilot programs to collect data about certain aspects of the transition. We at Public Knowledge have emphasized how this transition must be a step forward--not a step backward--for everyone. That applies just as much to the proposed pilot programs as it does to the overall transition.

The FCC's pilot programs must first and foremost protect the everyday Americans who use the network for business, to communicate with loved ones, and to call 911 during emergencies.

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FCC Takes More Time and Asks for More Data on Verizon’s Voice Link

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has taken the first steps to fully considering how Verizon's Voice Link deployment impacts consumers.


Yesterday evening the FCC notified Verizon that it would not automatically approve Verizon's application to replace its traditional wireline network with a fixed wireless service called Voice Link in Fire Island, NY and Mantoloking, NJ. The FCC also requested more data from Verizon about Voice Link's reliability and quality and the services Voice Link does or does not support.

This still leaves open the question of whether the FCC will ultimately approve or deny Verizon's request to roll out Voice Link instead of copper, but it at least ensures the FCC won't simply let Verizon's application be approved in an absence of mind under a fast-track process that wasn't designed for a situation as novel and complicated as Verizon's post-Superstorm Sandy network changes.

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Copyright, Consolidation, and the Music Licensing Marketplace

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The Commerce Department's Internet Policy Task Force (IPTF) is right to delve into the complexity of music licensing in its recent paper on copyright, but we also need to understand how consolidation and business practices shape the licensing landscape if we want to create a more robust and fair music marketplace.


Among many other important issues, the Department of Commerce's recent paper on copyright discusses how copyright is shaping the current state of online music licensing (starting on page 77). To be fair, the paper doesn't purport to be a completely comprehensive examination of what's helping and hindering a healthy music licensing market, but without at least mentioning some of the biggest issues facing the marketplace today our policies might be misguided and ineffective.

First of all, the paper rightly recognizes that the best defense is a good offense, and notes studies crediting the development of legal music services as a leading force in decreasing infringement online. This is a good reminder that everyone--artists, intermediaries, and listeners alike--stand to benefit from a well-designed music licensing system that encourages a robust marketplace.

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New PKThinks White Paper: A Deeper Dive Into the Five Fundamentals for the Phone Network Transition

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PKThinks' newest white paper explains why we need a values-based framework for the phone network transition and why the Five Fundamentals can continue promoting a network you can count on.


Today Public Knowledge released a white paper explaining why it's so important that we follow certain basic values as our phone network transitions to Internet Protocols (IP). After all, our phone network didn't become the envy of world by accident; it was the result of deliberate policy choices that prioritized service to all Americans, competition and interconnection, consumer protection, network reliability, and public safety (what PK calls the Five Fundamentals).

As we dive into the transition to IP, it's tempting to jump right into a debate about what the specific rules should look like. But without knowing what values are guiding your choices, it's impossible to make principled decisions about which path to choose. 

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As Consumer Complaints Keep Streaming In, FCC Should Not Automatically Approve Verizon’s Voice Link

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Public Knowledge is urging the Federal Communications Commission to not let Verizon's Voice Link service get automatic approval before agencies have even finished collecting data and consumer feedback.


Today Public Knowledge officially asked the Federal Communications Commission to take Verizon's application to replace its traditional copper-based network with its fixed wireless Voice Link service off of the FCC's streamlined authorization procedures. Right now, Verizon's application is set to be automatically approved if the FCC takes no action by the end of August, but by that point we won't even have all of the relevant feedback from the public or Verizon yet to inform the FCC's decision. Especially considering what a big deal Verizon's post-Sandy Voice Link deployment has turned out to be, for Fire Island and for any community that could be hit by a natural disaster (hint: all of them), this isn't a decision the FCC should rush to make before it even has all of the facts.

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Why Internet Radio Royalties Led Pandora to Buy an FM Radio Station

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Pandora’s recent purchase of a South Dakota FM radio station to obtain lower rates for its webcasting service reminds us how inefficient and illogical our music licensing system can be today.


Sparked by an op-ed penned by Pandora employee Christopher Harrison, yesterday reports surfaced that Pandora has purchased a terrestrial radio station in South Dakota. At first glance, it seems downright bizarre to see an internet radio company invest in a single FM radio station in a relatively small market. But a closer look at the thicket of licensing rules surrounding internet radio reveals how our current music licensing system can create nonsensical incentives for companies on both sides of the negotiating table.

The real reason for Pandora’s purchase of an FM radio station is Pandora’s royalty rate for musical compositions on its internet radio service. Note: this is a separate legal issue from the licensing Pandora pays for its use of sound recordings. The underlying musical composition gets its own copyright, and must be licensed in addition to the sound recording rights.

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Adding Insult to Injury for Sandy Victims: 911 Calls May Not Go Through on New Verizon Phone Service

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Verizon’s new revelations about the limits of its Voice Link service in hurricane-damaged Fire Island show how important a consumer-focused framework will be for the phone network transition.


Months after Hurricane Sandy damaged Verizon’s traditional copper phone network in Fire Island, NY, Verizon has made it clear that it does not intend to repair its infrastructure in the recovering community. Instead, Verizon has announced plans to replace its wireline service in Fire Island and other hurricane-ravaged communities with an untested fixed wireless service called Voice Link.

Verizon has been eager to tell subscribers that Voice Link offers “the same 911 support” and “many of the same voice features and functions” as their old landline phones did. In New Jersey, Verizon even sent around a mailer saying “Our technicians connect Voice Link into the telephone lines in your home, allowing you to use your home telephones to make and receive calls just like you did before.”

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Five Fundamentals for the Phone Network, Part 5: Public Safety

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This is the final post in our series explaining Public Knowledge’s five fundamental principles for the transition of our phone network to IP-based technology. We’ve already discussed service to all Americans, interconnection and competition, consumer protection, and network reliability. Today we’ll dive into the last (but not least) of the five principles: public safety.

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SXSW and the Future of Digital Music Distribution

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For those who are journeying down to sunny Austin, Texas for the kick-off of the SXSW Music festival today, don’t forget to check out Public Knowledge’s panel tomorrow, where we’ll be talking about the effects of market concentration on consumers, artists, and digital platforms.

The panel, inspired by the recent merger between major record labels Universal Music Group and EMI, will also include artist advocate and principal of WYZ Girl Entertainment Lita Rosario, CEO of indie label association Merlin Charles Caldas, manager and CEO of V. Brown & Company Vernon Brown, and Paul Geller, co-founder of The BKRY and former SVP of Grooveshark.

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Five Fundamentals for the Phone Network, Part 2: Interconnection and Competition

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Last week we started unpacking Public Knowledge’s proposed Five Fundamentals to guide the upgrade of our phone network to an IP-based infrastructure. First, we explained the importance of providing basic phone service to everyone in the country, regardless of the protocols used to deliver that service.

This week, we’ll focus on the continued need for interconnection and competition among phone service providers.

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Five Fundamentals for the Phone Network, Part 1: Service to All Americans

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The debate around the technological transition of our phone system to an IP-based network is now well underway at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and among state and local regulators across the country. Public Knowledge has argued that we must guide this transition according to five fundamental principles: service to all Americans, interconnection and competition, consumer protection, network reliability, and public safety. These principles lie at the heart of the reliability, efficiency, and consumer-friendly aspects of the phone network that we often take for granted.

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The FCC Needs a Framework for the Phone Network Transition First

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As the debate surrounding the technological transition of the public switched telephone network (PSTN) to an all-IP network continues, it’s becoming fairly obvious that the guardians of the phone network need to handle this transition by establishing fundamental principles to guide our country’s policies moving forward. Today, Public Knowledge filed reply comments with the Federal Communications Commission urging the FCC to do just that.

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The Internet Radio Fairness Act: What It Means for Radio, Musicians, and You

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Last week we broke down the details of the Internet Radio Fairness Act, the recently proposed bill that aims to update the compulsory licenses for online radio services. This week we’ll be delving more into the real world impacts of IRFA.

At the end of the day, the proposals in IRFA are a good start toward promoting a healthy, competitive radio marketplace, but there are still a couple of missing pieces that the bill must include to truly be technology-neutral and to fairly balance the interests at stake in the radio marketplace.

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The Internet Radio Fairness Act: Revamping the Online Radio Marketplace

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Royalties for online radio and other digital music services are a prominent topic for today’s recorded music industry, and the discussion has only grown with the recent introduction of the Internet Radio Fairness Act in the House and Senate. IRFA aims to revamp the parts of the Copyright Act that create licenses for online radio services to pay for transmitting sound recordings to their users. More specifically, IRFA would change the standard by which online radio royalty rates are set, alter the qualifications and appointment procedures for the Copyright Royalty Judges, and make several more changes to the process of setting online radio royalties.

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UMG & EMI Will Merge, Music Biz Gatekeepers Are Here To Stay

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Today the European Commission and US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) both gave clearance to the merger of major record labels Universal Music Group (UMG) and EMI. The European antitrust authorities conditioned their approval on a number of divestitures, but the FTC simply closed their investigation without taking any action or negotiating any conditions on the merger. On the whole, this is a major loss for the future of the music industry, and digital music services will be bearing the burden of this decision for years to come.

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UMG/EMI: A Tax on Innovation

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Reports today indicate that the European Union will soon issue its official final decision on the proposed merger between the major labels Universal Music Group and EMI, if UMG divests a substantial portion of EMI. As Public Knowledge has explained before, Europe’s review in no way changes the US Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) responsibility to examine the merger and protect competition in the US market.

As the FTC continues its review, it must remember that the consequences of this merger go well beyond higher prices for consumers: it allows corporate gatekeepers to leverage their large copyright holdings as a tax on innovation.

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Failing to Understand the Needs of the 21st Century: The TPP and the Notice-and-Takedown System

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This is the fourth post in our series on how a US proposal for a copyright chapter in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) would hurt the rights of citizens in the 21st century. That proposal was leaked on the internet in February last year. For more details on the TPP, check out tppinfo.org.

One of the ways that the TPP fails to accommodate the needs of 21st century technology is by locking the US into its current rules for when online service providers should be liable for others’ infringement, in addition to subtly chipping away at the protections given to online service providers.

Locking In the Notice-and-Takedown Process

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Recap: TPP Stakeholder Events in Leesburg, VA

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On Sunday, dozens of non-profits, companies, and members of the public gathered in Leesburg, VA, to speak out about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) during the ongoing 14th round of negotiations. Public Knowledge attended the events, stressing to the negotiators the importance of copyright limitations and exceptions, and explaining how the TPP can be fixed to encourage those exceptions.

Stakeholder Presentations: Logistically Challenged

Many logistical challenges clouded the stakeholder events, accentuating the already acute problems of public participation. As others have reported, the USTR initially tried to squeeze public stakeholder presentations to just 8 minutes each for the Leesburg round. After many groups protested, the USTR expanded the time limit to 10 minutes, which is the same amount that stakeholders were given during the July negotiations in San Diego.

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Verizon/Cable Settlement with DOJ: A Closer Look

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Today, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it will allow, with conditions, Verizon, Comcast, and other cable companies to cross-market each other’s products and establish a Joint Operating Entity to develop and control new technology. As part of the deal Verizon will also buy a substantial amount of wireless spectrum from the cable companies. Although only the DOJ's proposed settlement is officially available (pdf), the FCC is also expected to approve the deal next week with similar conditions. On the whole, these conditions fail to adequately address the many harms threatened by the deal, and the approval of this deal raises significant questions for the future of broadband competition policy going forward.

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UMG/EMI: The Next Innovation Bottleneck

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While much attention has focused on whether European antitrust regulators will allow the major label Universal to buy one of its competitors, EMI, the proposed merger has also attracted the attention of US antitrust authorities in the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Senate. In the US context, this merger bears some important similarities to recent proceedings like the Comcast/NBCU merger and the failed AT&T/T-Mobile merger.

Universal/EMI and AT&T/T-Mobile: Taking Over a Maverick Competitor

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Verizon, Comcast, and the Patent Wars

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As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) continue their review of the proposed deals between Verizon, Comcast, and several other large cable companies, attention is turning to the companies' side agreements tied to the proposed spectrum transfer. From the very beginning of this proceeding Public Knowledge has focused on the ways that the side agreements threaten the public interest, in addition to potentially spelling the end of competition between wireline and wireless internet service providers.

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TPP Recap: San Diego Negotiations

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This week the US and eight other countries finished the 13th round of negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Public Knowledge attended the negotiation sessions to talk to negotiators and advocate for balanced copyright policies that would benefit the public. Here is a recap of what PK did and saw at the San Diego negotiations.

Stakeholder Events

The U.S., as host for this round of negotiations, organized two events for public stakeholders to talk to negotiators and present their perspectives at the beginning of the negotiation round. First, there was a tabling event similar to the one held during the Dallas round of negotiations in May. Stakeholders could sign up for a table in hopes that negotiators handling the issues they care about would stop by to discuss the stakeholders’ concerns.

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Approval for Publishing Merger Only Bolsters Case Against UMG/EMI Merger

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Today the U.S. Federal Trade Commission approved a proposed merger between the publishing divisions of Sony/ATV and EMI Music Publishing. Although the FTC did not release an analysis of the deal, yesterday the European Union released the analysis it relied upon when approving the publishing merger with several divestitures. The proposed merger between the Universal Music Group (UMG) and EMI record labels is still under consideration in both the U.S. and Europe, but a closer look at the EU's analysis of the Sony/EMI publishing merger only bolsters the case against the UMG/EMI merger.

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What We Learn (and Don’t Learn) from the TPP Transparency Fact Sheet

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The debate over transparency in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) rages on. Yesterday the US Trade Representative (USTR) released a fact sheet on transparency in the TPP negotiations. The fact sheet basically summarizes how the USTR perceives its transparency efforts to date and how it responds to outcry from members of Congress and the public that the level of secrecy surrounding the TPP negotiations is unacceptable.

While this fact sheet is better than no response at all, it does little to address substantive concerns about secrecy in TPP and in fact only shows how public input and accountability is directly dependent on the open availability of substantive information about the TPP's proposed text.

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Credit Where Credit Is Due: USTR Accommodates Stakeholder Presentations

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The US Trade Representative (USTR) just recently announced that it will accommodate both formal presentations and less structured events for stakeholders in the next round of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. This is a promising step forward for the USTR's public engagement efforts, even though it cannot solve the serious problems caused by the lack of transparency in the TPP negotiations.

Combining the Best of Both Worlds

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USTR Gone Rogue

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In previous blog posts, Public Knowledge generally described the stakeholder events that occurred this past weekend at the TPP negotiations in Dallas, to give readers a sense of the structure that public interest groups work within during negotiations. This post will be dedicated to the actual substance of the conversations we had with the USTR during those events.

Stakeholder Engagement: A Huge Disappointment

While we thought the general structure of the stakeholder tabling event has its advantages and disadvantages, the substance of the conversations we had with USTR representatives during that event made us seriously concerned that the USTR cannot be prevailed upon to represent the public without complete transparency.

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Live from the Trenches Part 2: TPP Stakeholder Event

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Today Public Knowledge participated in the US Trade Representative’s (USTR) stakeholder tabling event for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), where stakeholders could sign up to sit at a table in hopes that negotiators working on their issues would come by to discuss their concerns. This event differs from previous stakeholders forums, where stakeholders made formal presentations to groups of negotiators together. Public Knowledge has written before about the difference between the two types of stakeholder events.

Having now participated in both kinds of stakeholder events, we find that there are advantages and disadvantages to each. Whether one event is more effective than the other depends upon the particular stakeholder, how well they already know the negotiators, and the level of transparency in negotiations.

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Copyright and the TPP: The Big Picture

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As Public Knowledge dives into the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s (TPP) secret negotiation process and the details of its copyright provisions, it is useful to periodically step back and consider how the intellectual property chapter of the TPP fits into the framework of the TPP as a whole. The copyright provisions of the TPP, as based on the text proposed by the U.S. that was leaked in February 2011, would contradict the TPP’s overall goal of creating a seamless Pacific market and would chill innovation to the detriment of both consumers and businesses.

The TPP generally is an ambitious effort to open trade and encourage investment among the countries that border the Pacific Ocean. That is why the TPP covers so many different areas of the economy, like agriculture, textiles, environmental protections, and intellectual property.

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Live from the Trenches: TPP Negotiations in Dallas

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As the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations continue in Dallas, as promised, Public Knowledge is on the ground advocating for the public’s interest and urging negotiators to open the TPP process and allow public participation.

Here is a quick summary of what the TPP Dallas negotiations look like from the perspective of a public interest group like Public Knowledge.

Stakeholder Registration and Events

Stakeholders (people affected by the outcome of negotiations) have no access to the space where the actual negotiations take place. The entire floor where the negotiations take place is off-limits, and if you accidentally wander into the negotiators’ part of the hotel, security will kindly but firmly turn you around and direct you back to the lobby.

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TPP Deep Dive: Copyright and Digital Locks

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This post is the second in a series of blog posts examining Public Knowledge’s concerns with the proposed copyright provisions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Yesterday we discussed copyright presumptions that favor copyright owners in litigation, and today we examine the parts of the TPP that use copyright law to prohibit users from circumventing digital locks over works.

For the time being, this series is examining the US’s copyright proposals for the TPP [pdf] from February 2011, which is the most recent text that is publicly available.

Digital Locks in US Law

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TPP Deep Dive: Skewing Lawsuits in Favor of Copyright Plaintiffs

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This post is the first in a series of posts in which Public Knowledge will explain our concerns with the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s (TPP) copyright provisions. For the time being, this series will work off of the US’s copyright proposals [pdf] for the TPP that were leaked and made available February 2011. That leaked text from February 2011 is the most recent text that is publicly available.

One of the more troubling ways in which the US proposal for the TPP copyright provisions differs from current US copyright law is how it skews copyright cases in favor of the copyright owner.

US Law: The Plaintiff Must Prove Her Case

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Where Are The Record Label Best Practices?

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RapidShare’s recent release of its new best practices for cloud storage service throws into stark relief the lengths to which online platforms will go to avoid the wrath—justified or not—of incumbent content distributors like record labels. As we watch digital distributors adopt “best practices” that go well beyond their legal obligations under copyright law to prevent copyright infringement, one obvious question comes to mind: Where are the record label best practices?

Last week RapidShare announced its new “Responsible Practices for Cloud Storage Services,” in which RapidShare promises to go above and beyond its copyright law obligations to stop infringement—and urges other cloud storage services to do the same.

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Supreme Court Will Hear Case on Importation and the First Sale Doctrine

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This morning the Supreme Court announced that it will hear arguments in a case with far-reaching implications for anyone who has ever sold or given away goods that contained copies of copyrighted works. Public Knowledge, along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and U.S. PIRG, filed an amicus brief in January urging the Court to hear this case. The Court should ultimately reverse the lower court's ruling, which effectively granted copyright holders a perpetual distribution right for any copies manufactured outside of the United States.

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Verizon and Cable Cos Keep Playing Games

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Verizon and the cable companies have always been reluctant to answer the tough questions about their proposed deals to team up rather than compete on voice, video, and data services, but now they're even going so far as to try to stop potential opponents of the deals from participating in the FCC's review at all. The FCC shouldn't indulge this kind of gamesmanship and should give all interested parties a meaningful opportunity to make thoughtful, well-informed arguments about these deals.

Yesterday Verizon and the cable companies filed an objection to try to stop Netflix's outside counsel from reading the companies' license transfer, agency, resale, and Joint Operating Entity agreements.

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Publishers, Distributors Must Learn to Let Go

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It looks like we’ll soon know whether the Supreme Court will help referee an increasingly common fight between publishers (and other distributors and manufacturers) and consumers who sell or give away their used copies of books, music, games, and basically anything that contains a copyrighted work. Publishers and manufacturers want to be able to control—or stop—sales of used goods, while consumers want to be able to dispose of their own physical property however they see fit. What the Court chooses to do could have enormous ramifications for consumers and businesses across the country that sell or lend copies of copyrighted goods, from books to toys to automobiles.

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FCC to Verizon and Cable Cos: Play by the Rules

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The orders the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued last week in its review of the big deal between Verizon, Comcast and assorted other cable players will force the companies to play by the rules, and will provide a good view into how the industry is trying to construct its own little cartel.  The FCC staff asked a number of detailed questions, and the answers could show how Verizon and its four cable partners want to divide the world among themselves.

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Message to Universal: Buying Competitors Does Not Fight Piracy

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As part of its sales pitch to antitrust regulators, Universal Music Group, the largest record label in the world, is now claiming that it absolutely must buy the record label EMI in order to fight piracy. Yes, Universal is seriously claiming that the pressures of online copyright infringement are forcing it to buy one of its largest competitors in an already very consolidated market. On this point, Universal is wrong. Universal is not trying to buy EMI because it wants to fight piracy, and even if it was, this deal would likely have the exact opposite effect. The best way to fight piracy is to offer fans a quick, easy, reasonably priced legal alternative to infringement. Those consumer-friendly alternatives are much more likely to thrive when no single record label has a large enough market share to effectively veto any new service it doesn’t like. 

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OMG, UMG! Why Four Major Labels Are Better Than Three.

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Right now the biggest record label in the world, Universal Music Group, is attempting to buy the fourth-largest record label, EMI, a move that could stifle the development of new digital music services to the detriment of musicians and their fans. If one company holds a large enough share of the recorded music market, new online music services will inevitable need to curry favor with that company in order to succeed, which gives that company (here, Universal) effective veto power over new services and competitors.

Today Public Knowledge and the Media Access Project filed a letter advising the Federal Trade Commission to investigate thoroughly how the proposed transaction will affect both artists and audiences before it lets the one of the “Big Four” major labels take over another. While we are not currently asking the FTC to necessarily block the deals outright, the deals pose some serious potential harms to musicians and consumers. The FTC should rigorously review the likelihood and scale of those harms before it decides whether it should approve the acquisitions in their current form.

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PK Asks Supreme Court to Protect Used Textbook Markets

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Today Public Knowledge, along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and U.S. PIRG, filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to review a lower court decision in the case John Wiley & Sons, Inc. v. Kirtsaeng on used textbook sales that could have enormous ramifications for consumers and businesses across the country that sell or lend copies of copyrighted goods, from books to toys to automobiles.

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Modernizing the Copyright Office, One Database at a Time

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Right now the Copyright Office is in the process of overhauling how it administers part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which has the potential to make the copyright notice-and-takedown process easier for service providers and copyright owners alike. The DMCA provides a safe harbor for online service providers that limits their liability for users’ infringement if they satisfy a number of conditions. One of those conditions is the agent designation requirement: the service provider must designate an agent to receive infringement notices from copyright holders so the service provider can take down the allegedly infringing content (subject to a counter-notice from the user). This week, Public Knowledge filed comments in the Copyright Office’s rulemaking to update its directory of service providers’ agents.

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Copyright Does Not Trump Disability Rights Law

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Who would have thought that closed captioning could become the next big copyright fight? Yesterday Public Knowledge filed reply comments in an FCC proceeding implementing new video closed captioning rules under the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (“CVAA”). Other commenters in the proceeding argued that copyright protections prevent video programming distributors from adding or improving captions to videos that don’t meet the CVAA’s requirements. PK stepped in to point out that even if captioning infringes copyright (which is unlikely), copyright, like any other private right, is subject to constitutional laws and regulations. Copyright does not trump a captioning law any more than real property rights trump the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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SOPA and Section 1201: A Frightening Combination

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One of the many serious problems with the Stop Online Piracy Act ("SOPA") (pdf) is how it tacks itself onto existing law to expand liability to people who may be three times removed from any actual copyright infringement. In § 103, SOPA wraps another layer of liability around what are called the "anticircumvention provisions" of the Copyright Act (which are found in section 1201 of the Copyright Act). The goal of the anticircumvention provisions is preventing people from circumventing technology that protects copyrighted works. Importantly, however, some courts have held that § 1201 prohibits circumvention even when the person's ultimate use of the work does not infringe copyright.

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A Second Bite at the Apple: Copyright Reclamation Ripens for Sound Recordings

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Much ado has been made recently in the recording industry over a copyright law mechanism called the "termination" right, and for good reason. Section 203 of the Copyright Act gives authors a 5-year window to reclaim the rights to their works by terminating transfers or licenses they executed in or after 1978, starting 35 years after they granted the licenses. This allows recording artists to reclaim rights they previously sold, gave, or licensed away, and this year some of those artists (like Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Tom Waits, to name a few) began telling record labels that they intend to do so.

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“Originality” and Copyright Law: Trickier Than You’d Think

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Last week when I reported back from Google Copyright School, one thing about the video that bothered me was its implicit assertion that "original" works are better and more interesting than derivative works, like remixes or mash-ups.  This idea bothers me for two reasons: to me, it's actually very difficult to sift through our culture and determine what's really "original" and what isn't, and even if we could do it I'm not so sure that the arguably not-original works provide no value to society.

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My First Day at (YouTube Copyright) School

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As you may have heard, yesterday Google unveiled its new YouTube Copyright School.  YouTube users who are alleged to have violated copyright law must watch a video discussing some of the basics on copyright law (more on that later) and pass a quiz or risk having their account deleted.  The idea isn't all bad: educating the public about copyright law is a good thing, and so is stopping copyright infringement.  But this new Copyright School has some serious flaws, and I think on the whole will only discourage the creation of new (legitimate) works while doing little to actually prevent infringing uses.

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Have a Little (Good) Faith in Retransmission Consent

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Last week the FCC announced the agenda for its March meeting, including a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to reform some of the rules governing negotiations between broadcasters and cable companies over the retransmission of broadcast programs via cable.  In a letter [pdf] we sent to the FCC in January, Public Knowledge applauded this effort and explained that, now more than ever, the FCC must use its existing legal authority and act to protect consumers.  We also urged the FCC to grant our petition from last March, which would establish safeguards to prevent retransmission consent disputes from leaving customers cash-strapped or out in the cold.

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A CopyNight to Remember

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On June 28, Boing Boing co-editor, sci-fi author, and UK Open Rights Group co-founder Cory Doctorow spoke at this month's CopyNight DC.  Doctorow has long been a respected voice in the debate about copyright law's effect on culture, but he’s recently broadened his arguments to take aim at the consequences that overreaching copyright enforcement has for democracy itself.  The talk was inspiring, informative, and entertaining, and I highly recommend it (watch it here) to anyone who's interested in. . . well, democracy itself.

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Revamping Retransmission Consent: Cable Customers as Company Collateral

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The broadcast "retransmission consent" regulatory structure isn't exactly the hottest topic of the moment, so you might wonder why PK recently filed Reply Comments (and joined the Petition for Rulemaking) urging the FCC to revamp its rules governing negotiations between over-the-air broadcasters and cable companies.

Getting the retransmission consent rules right is important if the FCC wants to protect consumer choice by ensuring a vibrant marketplace for multichannel video programming distributors (including cable companies, digital broadcast satellite, incumbent local exchange carriers, and online video distributors).  Right now consumers are caught in the middle, and are being used as pawns in the negotiations for cable companies' rights to offer broadcast programming to their customers.  In recent years, these negotiations have consistently resulted in either higher cable rates for consumers or loss of programming.  PK's reply comments urge the FCC to stop letting consumers get trampled in a system that was intended to benefit the public by preserving "free" over-the-air broadcasting.

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The Doctor Will Be Right With You… After You Sign Over Your Copyright

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Physicians understandably prefer to avoid defamatory remarks about them popping up on the internet (don't we all?), but that doesn’t justify the relatively new practice of some doctors controlling online patient reviews by making their patients sign over their "copyright" in all future reviews, true or not.  The New York Times recently published an interesting article about strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), which mentioned in passing efforts of the for-profit company Medical Justice to keep patients from posting unfavorable physician reviews online.  Even more interesting than what you'll find in the linked article was its original version, as posted last Monday: 

"The group Medical Justice, which helps protect doctors from meritless malpractice suits, advises its members to have patients sign an agreement that gives the doctor copyright over a Web posting if the patient mentions the doctor or practice."

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