Today, Senator Ron Wyden spoke at CES, and remarked on the striking contrast in the landscape of technology policy between today and the time of last year's CES. Back then, SOPA and PIPA seemed like inevitabilities to be, at best, mitigated through a trench warfare style of advocacy. Today, we see a willingness to move forward on important (and often neglected) issues and challenge old assumptions underlying these policy debates.
Wyden's talk reflects this, indicating a broad agenda to encourage what he calls the "freedom to compete." I'd call it ambitious, but if that's so, it's only in its breadth—each of the particular areas he addresses has concrete, feasible goals that improve things not just for tech companies, but primarily for consumers and users. These include:
Preventing cable providers from using data caps to discriminate against competitors;
Strengthening and protecting an open Internet and net neutrality through beefed-up competition law;
Addressing the changes that computing and communications industries bring to America's trade negotiations
The ever-growing quagmire that results from the abuse of the patent system and patent litigation.
Among these and other areas, though, Wyden also called out the need to reform copyright law. In particular, the widespread popular protest against these bills showed that the confluence of digital technology and copyright law affects practically everyone, and that the law as it stands now is in need of improvement. In his speech, Wyden called out the need to ensure penalties for abuse of the notice-and-takedown process, strengthen the right to fair use, and to provide due process and accountability when domain names and servers are seized in connection with infringement cases.
In this, we can see a growing trend of interest in these issues. Copyright reform is becoming a serious point of discussion not just among members like Wyden and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (who Wyden specifically named as an ally in these efforts), but also with conservative members like Rep. Darrell Issa, who recently called for additional protections for fair use. Newer voices are also joining the call for reform. The free-market-oriented Mercatus Center recently publishing a book highlighting the lack of balance in copyright, and, among other things, criticizing seizure procedures. Derek Khanna's now-infamous Republican Study Committee memo also called for stronger penalties for takedown abuse and an expansion of fair use.
Since we at PK (and many others) have certainly had some ideas as to how copyright law might improve, I'm happy to see more policymakers and thinkers looking at and debating some much-needed changes that exist outside the old debates on what sort of penalties we should have for infringement, and instead focus on long-unanswered questions about what infringement actually is, versus what it should be. While the crowd at CES might be eager to see these changes for the new gadgets these changes could unlock, it's even more important that they unlock information and knowledge for everyday users to access and learn.