USTR 301 Comments: Crashing the IP Mafia's Party

Time for another little instructional video, aka “5 Minutes With Harold Feld.” Here, I talk about the US Trade Representative’s “Special 301” Process. This is where the US Trade Representative (USTR) makes a “naughty list” for countries which, in the words of the statute: “deny adequate and effective protection of intellectual property rights” or “deny fair and equitable market access to United States persons that rely upon intellectual property protection.” (You can find last year’s list here.)

But while Congress intended this to be about protecting U.S. interests from wholesale piracy — you know, the warehouses with the industrial copying machines that crank out 10,000 counterfeit DVDs and hour and such what — the usual suspects have hijacked this to ratchet up intellectual property law in other countries. That includes trying to outlaw in other countries things that are not only legal here, but critical to our electronics industry and online services (not to mention free speech and civic expression). For example, because “space shifting” is a perfectly legal fair use, SlingMedia can sell a product that lets me watch shows I pay for through my broadband connection. Because we don’t hold “providers of interactive services” liable for copyright infringement if they follow the Digital Millennium Copyright Act notice and takedown provisions, Youtube can have an open video service that’s easy to use and easy for people to upload content.

Eliminate these provisions and we don’t just lose access to foreign markets for these goods and services. We potentially expose U.S.-based providers to foreign liability. Needless to say, Hollywood and the music industry are deeply concerned about how mucking around with other countries and pressuring them to change copyright law hurts other businesses — let alone the impact on civil liberties. But while it is not the job of these industries, and their associated trade organizations, to care about others, it is the job of the USTR to care about all U.S. goods and services, not just the entertainment industry.

You can read more about this issue from my Public Knowledge colleague Rashmi Rangnath here, including her exciting day testifying before USTR staff here. Rashmi is too polite to say as bluntly as I will that USTR staff give every sign of having been so thoroughly indoctrinated by the entertainment industry that they don’t even remember what their actual job is anymore. So we will need to whack them up the side of the head with a pretty big Clue Hammer a few times to get this process heading back in the right direction.

Stay tuned . . . .

I was wrong, Second Life Does Teach People (Or, At Any Rate, the IP Mafia) Valuable Lessons for Reality

As regular readers may recall, I have had sharp words for those who can’t tell the difference between MMORGs such as “Second Life” and reality. Nor do I stand alone. Industry Reporter Clay Shirky over at Corante wrote this article a few weeks ago describing how the business press generally appears to have fallen into some sort of Second Life worshipping trance. So it may surprise some to see me lauding Linden Labs’ latest innovation as a fantastic contribution with the potential to make the real world a better place and teach those who need it a valuable lesson in life.

I refer to what the always clever folks at Good Morning Silicon Valley dubbed a “proceed and persevere” letter (the opposite of the “cease and desist” letter). What happened, and why I hope it catches on, below . . . .

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My stint as featured blogger at Public Knowledge

For the next week, I’ll be doing a stint as the “featured blogger” on Public Knowledge’s policy blog. As regular readers will know, I’ve often applauded PK as one of the key organizations fighting against expansion of intellectual property rights at the expense of the public, and critical in working to expand the intellectual commons. I’ll still try to post here as well. But I may just point people to PK.

For example, click here to see my update on the Adelphia transaction.

Stay tuned . . . .

Intellectual Property Is Not An Enforceable “Right”

Internal problems in Brie. Some nasty, some trivial, all annoying. We’ll work ’em out, but time to think of something else for a while. How about huge cultural paradigm shifts?

Clearly, something’s going on in the area of intellectual property. The old models are not serving. Everybody’s got something to say. (Here and there are some current MIT community examples.) On the one hand, Apple tries to sue companies for using a Windows-Icons-Menus-Pointer (WIMP) look-and-feel that they themselves didn’t invent, and they won’t let me rip the songs I legally bought from them. On the other hand, they want to use the name “Apple” despite clearly being in competition with Apple Records in the music business, and they produce a variety of devices in the new-cultural rip-mix-and-burn chain. Are they schizo, or is it just opportunistic business? I think it’s another data point towards the conclusion that we’re waiting for Thomas Kuhn (in a broad sense) to point the new way.

How can we understand intellectual property rights in a digital age? I propose that we try to get at what we really mean in terms of some established axioms.

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