First skirmish in DMCA overhaul coming ‘in the very near future’

Copyright U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke dropped a tidbit of news yesterday in remarks to a music-business crowd at Belmont University in Nashville  “In the very near future,” Locke said, according to the text of his prepared remarks, “the Department will be issue a Notice of Inquiry, seeking public comment on the challenges of protecting copyrighted works on-line and the relationship between copyright law and innovation” (h/t Ben Sheffner). Comments in response to the NOI, he said, will be used “to create a report that will help shape the administration-wide policy on copyright protection and innovation.”

While we knew an NOI was coming at some point, that “in the very near future” is new.

Locke also made it pretty clear where the Obama Administration is likely to come down on the issue:

The Internet is of course a double-edged sword for the music industry.  On the one hand, online copyright infringement is a growing threat, with cyberlockers as well as peer-to-peer, file sharing, streaming and user-generated content sites providing a constant challenge to the music industry.

But the Internet, if used correctly, can be a great growth engine.  In the United States alone, sales of digital music downloads reached $3.1 billion in 2009, a 19 percent increase above the previous year.

At the Commerce Department, we are trying to figure out how we shut out the pirates, while preserving the Internet as an avenue for commerce for music and for other creative industries.

The Commerce Department doesn’t write the laws, of course. So nothing that comes out of the NOI process can effect substantive changes to the DMCA. But it’s going to be pretty hard to talk about the “challenges of protecting copyrighted works on-line,” without discussing the §512 safe harbors.

Clearly the copyright industries are in the mood to discuss them. And they’re likely to see the Commerce NOI as an open invitation to air their complaints.

If nothing else, putting their views on narrowing the scope of the safe harbors on the public record is likely to spark a broader DMCA discussion here in Washington, including on Capitol Hill, where substantive changes can be made.

It’s also likely to be noted in foreign capitols, including Paris, London and Ottawa, where making substantive changes to copyright law and Internet regulation is already very much on the political agenda.  Ditto for the governments involved in the ACTA negotiations.

I wonder if we’ll see the NOI before the final ACTA text is released.

Further readings:

U.S. Department of Commerce press release

U.S. Internet Neutrality Flare Up Resonates on International Front