Saturday, October 10, 2015

Reid yields, delays Senate anti-piracy vote

Majority leader Harry Reid, yielding two days after Wednesday's online protests, says the bill can be fixed.

Reid yields, delays Senate anti-piracy vote


The Great Internet Blackout worked - for now.  In an announcement this morning, two days after an online protest produced this astonishingly loud response, Senate majority leader Harry Reid said he was postponing his plan to bring the Protect Intellectual Property Act to the floor on Tuesday. But he says the legislation can still be fixed:

In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday’s vote on the PROTECT I.P. Act.

There is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved. Counterfeiting and piracy cost the American economy billions of dollars and thousands of jobs each year, with the movie industry alone supporting over 2.2 million jobs. We must take action to stop these illegal practices. We live in a country where people rightfully expect to be fairly compensated for a day’s work, whether that person is a miner in the high desert of Nevada, an independent band in New York City, or a union worker on the back lots of a California movie studio.

I admire the work that Chairman Leahy has put into this bill. I encourage him to continue engaging with all stakeholders to forge a balance between protecting Americans’ intellectual property, and maintaining openness and innovation on the internet. We made good progress through the discussions we’ve held in recent days, and I am optimistic that we can reach a compromise in the coming weeks.

Opponents of Senate bill and its House companion, the Stop Online Piracy Act, disagree. Public Knowledge, for example, says it's time to start over.

In a curiously timed law-enforcement action, U.S. authorities moved Thursday to shut down, described as one of the world's largest sources of pirated intellectual property. The site's seizure was followed this morning by a raid on "a fortified mansion" in New Zealand, according to the Daily Beast.  New Zealand authorities arrested the man behind Megaupload, a German citizen, Kim Schmitz, who had changed his name to Kim Dotcom. The Beast said:

New Zealand police seized a pink Cadillac, a sawed-off shotgun, and froze millions of dollars in cash after raiding on Friday a fortified mansion occupied by the Internet guru known as "Kim Dotcom," the head of the website Megaupload now accused of online piracy. Armed officers arrested Kim Schmitz, a 37-year-old German citizen with New Zealand and Hong Kong residency, and he was denied bail with three other men on Friday in a court appearance. Megaupload, one of the world’s largest file-sharing sites, was shut down by U.S. authorities Thursday in one of the largest cases of copyright theft ever.

The seizure and raid help highlight the magnitude of the piracy problem.  But don't they also suggest that authorities could do more to address it under current laws?

In a New Republic blog post today, George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen argues that it's dangerously simplistic to see the current fight "as a battle between idealistic tech companies that want information to be free, and the greedy old media that wants to preserve a dying business model."   Quoting Robert Levine's new book, "Free Ride: How Digital Parasites Are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back," Rosen says "the real battle is between two competing business models":

On the one hand, there are the publishers, record companies, and movie companies that fund the content people want to watch and read. On the other, there are the tech companies, like Google and Facebook, that want to distribute content created with other people’s money and sell more ads as a result. By destroying the business model that makes it possible for AMC to invest in excellent shows like “Mad Men,” Levine argues, the tech companies will create a digital wasteland dominated by self-produced cat videos.

Public Knowledge's Harold Feld says that "simply tinkering with the details of [the Senate] bill, or of its House companion, is not the way to go. Neither is a ‘summit’ between the Big Media companies and tech companies":

At a minimum, Congress should start from scratch to determine the nature of the problem. No one has been able to figure out how the media companies calculated their supposed losses of jobs and income. If Congress goes ahead with legislation, it should hear widely from those concerned about the pending legislation – from Internet technologists, from law professors, artists, human rights activists, consumers and even public interest groups. Only then will legislation be truly accepted and truly be effective.

Besides, don't you just love those cat videos?

Inquirer Business Columnist
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About this blog

Jeff Gelles, who writes the Inquirer's weekly Consumer 14.0 and Tech Life columns, takes a broad look at the marketplace of goods, services, and ideas.

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