Rick Boucher on the DoJ’s Role in Copyright Education

Or the lack thereof — Justice Department as antipiracy shill?

In response to peer-to-peer file swappers, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that would place the Department of Justice at the head of a public education campaign about the niceties of copyright law.

While I applaud effective deterrence against the use of peer-to-peer technology to commit piracy, I find this proposed legislative response severely misguided on numerous levels.

The job of the Justice Department is to prosecute crimes–not give lectures and educate the public. In order to launch an effective campaign on the proper use of copyrighted material, the department would first have to educate itself. Given its crime-fighting orientation, I have little confidence that it would ever adequately explain public doctrines such as “fair use” or other proper uses of copyrighted material.

[…] In short, the proposed legislation adopts a fundamentally wrong-headed approach to copyright education and piracy prevention. In my view, an effective and appropriate education campaign should come from those who would benefit most from it–the music and movie industries. In fact, certain companies have begun to do just that, and I support their efforts.

Lamar Smith Heard From

From CNet News, a discussion of a Halloween speech by the head of the Subcommittee on the Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property: Lawmaker gives thumbs-up to RIAA clampdown

The head of the U.S. House of Representatives panel that oversees copyright law on Friday applauded the music industry’s recent lawsuits against peer-to-peer file swappers. “The legal action taken by the recording industry is necessary to protect intellectual property rights from being violated,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Tex., chairman of the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property.

In his remarks to the American Intellectual Property Law Association, Smith also said peer-to-peer networks permit “the widespread and massive distribution of digital music, movies, and software files.” The remarks come one day after the Recording Industry Association of America filed 80 more lawsuits against alleged copyright infringers, bringing the total to 341. They also signal his continued support for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s controversial subpoena process, which Verizon Communications and privacy advocates had hoped that Congress might modify.

Boomers and the Music Industry

Today’s NYTimes has an article that suggests the record industry is latching onto aging customers, whose buying habits were defined in the pre-Napster era. Boomers Buoy the Struggling Record Industry [pdf] is full of record industry quotes, but the example at the opening of the article shows that the real winner in this kind of market repositioning will be the retail outlets. Of course, most industries have already learned that association with the older generation is not a formula for success, but I guess the record companies have decided to make their own mistakes — they certainly have a creditable record of doing so up to this point!

The growing success of albums by older artists — and of singers like Norah Jones, who appeal to less cutting-edge tastes — offers some solace to an industry mired in a three-year sales slump. Record executives are desperate for any hopeful sign, even if it comes from people with more wrinkles than tattoos.

The record labels have placed most of the blame for the decline on the file-sharing networks on the Internet, and have sued or threatened to sue hundreds of people for illegally distributing free music online.

But the older audience, typically more affluent consumers who grew up buying their music on vinyl LP’s, seldom uses the free file-sharing sites, according to Forrester Research. And because they account for a growing segment of the record-buying public, labels are increasingly tailoring their releases and their marketing, particularly on television, to reach them.

LAMP Shut Down, MIT Chases Wrong Problem

Well, ‘temporarily suspended’ — as the announcement on LAMP says:

LAMP is Temporarily Suspended

MIT’s Library Access to Music service lets students listen to music over MIT’s analog cable television system. LAMP was designed to operate in full compliance with the law and to respect the rights of all copyright holders.

MIT has at all times sought to implement a legal music service for its students. We relied on Loudeye to provide us with authorized content and for Loudeye to facilitate and obtain the appropriate licenses. We have been working with Loudeye on obtaining content since October 2002 and Loudeye assured us on multiple occasions that the content they provided to us was prepared fully under authorization from the record labels and on behalf of the publishers.

The Boston Globe article, (MIT stops the music) tells a relatively industry-friendly story, while Slashdot sees RIAA conspiracy: MIT’s Music Net Shut Down Over License Issues. The LATimes article, Music Service at MIT Hits a Snag reinforces this notion:

Kelly Mullens, a spokeswoman for Vivendi Universal’s Universal Music Group, said, “It is unfortunate that MIT launched a service in an attempt to avoid paying recording artists, union musicians and record labels. Loudeye recognized that they had no right to deliver Universal’s music to the MIT service, and MIT acted responsibly by removing the music.”

Mullens said Universal looked forward to working out a solution with MIT.

A spokeswoman for the Harry Fox Agency, which represents music publishers, said her firm also hoped to resolve the dispute quickly. Neither Loudeye nor MIT has a license from Fox, she said.

At this point, I lean toward some RIAA pressure on Loudeye. It will be interesting to see just how much documentation of the assurances that LAMP cites in their announcement is on hand. At a minimum, there was something fraudulent in the $30,000 paid to buy the music from Loudey. But Loudeye can easily part with the money (and penalties) — Loudeye needs the RIAA to survive.

While the Slashdot discussion is the usual combination of interesting thought interspersed with uninformed drivel, this comment speaks to the real problem I see at MIT:

forget the loopholes (Score:5, Interesting)

by bonds (701580) on Saturday November 01, @07:31PM (#7368653)

We don’t need newer and more creative ways to sidestep our poorly conceived IP laws, we need new laws.

I for one would be grateful if places with clout, like MIT, would spend their resources advocating for better policy rather than engaging in legal contortions. If MIT, Harvard, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Princeton, Yale, NYU, etc. threw *serious* support behind good policy (like the Eldred act [eldred.cc], IMHO), the RIAA would find it much harder to have their way with congress. Admittedly, uniting these institutions of intellectual debate is much easier said than done, but they are uniquely equipped to put forth balanced proposals that address a broader social agenda than would ever emerge from an industry lobby. We could really use someone with the clout, resources, intelligence and neutrality of MIT to help write (and right) the rules of the game that are fair to *all* the stakeholders, not just the RIAA. [emphasis added]

What we are finding is that leaving the fox (the RIAA) to guard the hen-house (IP policy) is great for the fox and bad for everyone else.

Amen to that — but I’m afraid that MIT’s competition up the river at the Berkman Center are putting far more into this than MIT ever will. See, for example, this announcement and the accompanying Harvard press release.