Public Knowledge’s “Blueprint”

My recent review of William Patry’s book on copyright reform segues neatly into Tuesday’s announcement of the Internet Blueprint campaign by the copyleft advocacy group Public Knowledge (PK).  Apparently PK has taken some grief for its vociferous objections to the SOPA and PIPA legislation, and the ACTA agreement, without coming up with alternative ideas of its own.

As PK would have everyone believe, the Internet Blueprint is intended to remedy that situation.  It’s a set of ideas for copyright reform, which come complete (in true lobbyist style) with draft legislation; and it’s open to ideas for expansion.

It also has nothing whatsoever to do with the objectives of SOPA and PIPA, which — in case anyone has forgotten — were to reduce copyright infringement.

Here is a quick summary of most of the ideas in Public Knowledge’s Internet Blueprint:

  • Reduce abuse of the notice and takedown system in Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by imposing additional requirements on takedown notices and fines on bogus ones, as well as expanding the “safe harbor” granted to internet service providers under this law.
  • Impose regulations on the US Trade Representative that would forbid negotiating intellectual property terms in secret (as was done in the ACTA process).
  • Relax section 1201 of the DMCA by making it legal to hack DRMs for lawful uses of copyrighted material protected by them.
  • Shorten copyright terms from life of the creator plus 70 years to life plus 50 years.
  • Empower the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to require labeling of DRM on digital content that uses it.
  • Prohibit various types of abuses of copyright law, such as deceptive warning notices and frivolous lawsuits.
  • Expand Fair Use.

Nope, nothing in here about reducing infringement.  Even Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro, while being harshly critical of the music industry and its push for SOPA and PIPA, referred to “the very real problem of Internet piracy” and called for the RIAA to work with him on solutions that are more “reasonable” than those pieces of legislation.  PK’s Internet Blueprint is not about working with anyone to reduce piracy.

Furthermore, for an organization that professes to be against larding the Internet with excessive regulations, this is a very interesting list of additional regulations.  For example, instead of adding qualifying conditions to DMCA 1201, why not just call for its repeal?

Public Knowledge’s home page says: “In the weeks since SOPA and PIPA, many people have been wondering ‘what now?’  Policymakers here in DC ask us a similar question — ‘[I]f you don’t like SOPA and PIPA, where are your ideas?'”  Some people may have asked PK that question, but the Internet Blueprint doesn’t answer it.  I think a more accurate statement is probably something like, “After the success of the SOPA and PIPA protests, we would like to see what other items on our agenda we can get the public excited about.”  Connecting the Internet Blueprint with SOPA and PIPA is just disingenuous.

Of the actual ideas in the Blueprint, the abuse-curbing regulations seem sensible, and the proposed legislation on DRM labeling is unworkable — as the FTC probably knows, having looked into this issue in depth back in 2009.  Otherwise, for the record, I’m not expressing opinions on PK’s ideas, except to say that in general I am not a fan of regulating technology, and I believe that the United States copyright law is already too complicated.  (I am particularly not a fan of DMCA 1201, though not for the typical set of reasons — but that’s a different discussion.)

It’s a good thing to try to rally the public around actionable ideas rather than feel-good slogans.  But in this case, PK is guilty of excessive opportunism — or what politicians like to call “overplaying their hand.”  Just as one shouldn’t bother asking vegetarians for better steak recipes, one shouldn’t bother asking Public Knowledge for ideas on reducing copyright infringement.

One comment

  1. I found their proposal for shortening copyright a tad underwhelming as well: shave twenty years off after the creator’s death? Why not life of creator? Or fifty years? Or life or fifty, whichever is shorter? Come on guys, we’re counting on you to eviscerate copyright and that’s the best you can do?

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