Copyright

Blindsided in Marrakesh

Hadn’t yet seen this when I was writing the previous post (h/t reader JB) but it certainly speaks to why the MPAA might be looking to bolster its connections with U.S. trade authorities and the Obama Administration. The studio group had worked hard to limit the scope of the WIPO treaty on copyright exceptions for works for the blind, pressing U.S. negotiators to keep references to “fair use” out of treaty. Yet no sooner had negotiators concluded a deal that included that language anyway,then the U.S. State Department put out a statement endorsing the treaty and vowing to move swiftly for its ratification: Read More »

Copyright owners call in reinforcements

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With the debate over copyright reform heating up both in the U.S. and abroad, copyright owners have been filling out their lobbying ranks. On Tuesday (7/16) the Motion Picture Assn. of America named former Democratic House staffer Shanna Winters to the new post of senior VP of global policy and external affairs, reporting to Michael O’Leary, senior executive VP of global policy. Winters spent eight years on the Hill, most recently as the Democratic Chief Counsel for the Foreign Relations Committee. Before that she was staff director for the House Judiciary Subcommittee for Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property.

The MPAA has its hands full internationally these days, where it’s trying to hold the line against a global push to carve out greater exemptions to copyright, but has suffered some significant setbacks of late. Winters contacts at both the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committee should come in handy as copyright reform has become a flashpoint in a growing number of trade negotiations.

Also on Tuesday, NBC Universal named former White House deputy counsel and deputy assistant to President Obama, Kimberley Harris, as its new executive VP and general counsel, where she will be responsible for coordinating NBC-U’s global regulatory and legislative agenda. Former general counsel Rick Cotton, who announced plans to step down in May, will become senior counselor to NBC-U on IP protection.

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Harris

Given recent strains in Hollywood’s relations with the Obama Administration, including the MPAA’s needless dis of White House Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordination Victoria Espinel this week when it dismissed the new “best-practices” program adopted by online ad exchanges for combating online piracy as “not sufficient.” Espinel’s office helped coordinate the drafting of the program, which was announced on the White House web site.

Ironically, Espinel owes her job to Harris’ predecessor, Cotton, who spearheaded industry lobbying for the Pro-IP Act that created the office of IPEC in 2008. Presumably, Harris’ contacts in the West Wing will help smooth whatever feathers were ruffled there this week by the MPAA
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Slippery SOPA

Copyright Critics of the failed Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act (SOPA/PIPA) have been having some fun with some internal RIAA and IFPI materials regarding the music industry’s anti-piracy efforts that leaked to TorrentFreak last week. Part of the cache includes a PowerPoint presentation delivered by RIAA deputy general counsel Victoria Sheckler to IFPI members back in April (pdf).

The critics are taking particular delight in Sheckler’s acknowledgment that the laws were “not likely to have been effective tool[s] for music.” Here’s the PPT slide summarizing the SOPA/PIPA debate:

While perhaps a bit embarrassing for the RIAA, I don’t find the revelation terribly surprising. The bills weren’t really crafted with music in mind; most of the online piracy the music industry is concerned about occurs over peer-to-peer networks, which were not the targets of the bills.

Rather, the bills were crafted by the MPAA, as a tool against movie piracy. Though P2P networks are responsible for a certain amount of movie piracy, more of it these days involves digital locker services, mostly based outside the U.S., like Megaupload, which were the main targets of SOPA and PIPA. As data contained elsewhere in Sheckler’s presentation show, digital lockers make up only about 6 percent of what the music companies regard as piracy, compared to 23 percent Read More »

Aereo combat: Why the networks should be worried

Copyright There are certainly cheaper markets to operate in than New York City. And if you were preparing to launch a risky media startup, you might be expected to try opening out of town, where the downside would be smaller, before taking your show to Broadway. Not so for Aereo, the Barry Diller-backed startup formerly know as Bamboom, which offers to stream broadcast TV channels to subscribers over the Internet for viewing on connected devices for $12 a month. Subscribers will also be able to record programs as they would with a DVR and store them in the cloud for later viewing.

Perhaps Diller just craved the spotlight, and wanted to launch in center of the media universe. But a more likely reason for picking New York is that it’s the seat of the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which in 2008 handed down an opinion in Cartoon Network, et. al. v. CSC Holdings, better known as the Cablevision remote-DVR case.  That case, in which the cable operator’s cloud-based DVR service was challenged unsuccessfully by the networks,  is Read More »

Who lost SOPA?

Legislation The blame-storming in Hollywood over the failure of SOPA and the Protect-IP Act has begun. MPAA chief Chris Dodd offers a half-hearted mea culpa in the New York Times, acknowledging a “perception problem” for the industry. But he pins most of the blame on “irresponsible” technology players like Wikipedia, Google and Reddit for stirring up the natives with their blackouts and black propaganda.

More darkly, many in the media industry are blaming President Barack Obama for the loss, accusing him of a stab in the back for siding publicly with Silicon Valley after Hollywood had raised millions for his campaigns. One time SOPA and PIPA supporters in Congress who went wobbly in the face of public pressure are also coming in for scorn.

Most of the problems the media companies have had over SOPA and PIPA, however, have been self-inflicted. Read More »

Why Concurrent Media did not go black today

Legislation There were, as best I could tell without an engineering degree, sound engineering reasons to oppose the DNS-blocking provisions of the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act. An enforcement mechanism that relied on maintaining a security hole in the Domain Name System, just as Internet engineers around the world were implementing a long-awaited fix for that hole, seem pretty self-evidently a bad idea. Especially so since the enforcement purpose itself could be so easily defeated by the simple expedient of typing in IP addressed directly.

There were also, again as best I could tell, serious ideological and societal implications that flowed from that enforcement strategy. Insofar as DNS blocking in the U.S. would encourage the adoption of alternative systems for resolving IP addresses, which were not subject to U.S. jurisdiction but which more Read More »

SOPA slips away

Legislation You knew something was up when both Lamar Smith and Patrick Leahy, respectively the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, each issued statements Friday (Smith, Leahy) saying they would remove the DNS blocking provisions from their own signature anti-piracy bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House, and PROTECT-IP in the Senate. On Saturday, the rest of us found out what was up when the Obama Administration posted a statement on the White House blog saying it would not support any legislative measures “that tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS).”

And with that, the copyright industries’ biggest prize was lost. Read More »

Stopping SOPA still a long shot, and yet…

Copyright Opponents of the Stop Online Piracy Act over at Reddit, the crowd-sourced news aggregator, are trumpeting their role in getting the high-profile Congressman and conservative hero Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to, apparently, flip-flop on his support for the bill. In a statement issued Monday, Ryan said that, “While H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act, attempts to address a legitimate problem, I believe it creates the precedent and possibility for undue regulation, censorship and legal abuse.” As a result, he added, “I do not support H.R. 3261 in its current form and will oppose the legislation should it come before the full House.”

Ryan had been targeted by activists at Reddit largely because of his high profile. They launched “Operation Pull Ryan” last month and endorsed his Democratic challenger, Rob Zerban, in an effort to deny Ryan reelection in 2012 over his “support” for SOPA. Zerban, in fact, was quick to praise Reddit in a post on the site Monday calling Ryan’s seeming change of heart, “an extraordinary victory” that will “send shock waves…throughout the establishment in Washington today.” Read More »

Who is winning the SOPA fight?

Copyright Only a few months ago, it appeared that supporters of the Stop Online Piracy Act had the votes to whisk the bill through the House Judiciary Committee and get it to the House floor before anyone really noticed what was happening. The bill was sponsored by both the chairman and ranking member of the committee and was the top legislative priority of major U.S. industries with a history of generous campaign contributions. The skids seemed more than amply greased.

For all that, however, SOPA’s supporters weren’t quite quick enough. Opponents raised enough alarms that a Judiciary Committee hearing last month expected to be a mere rubber-stamp markup of the bill turned into a contentious, two-day marathon that only ended when Congress itself adjourned for the year. Nearly 70 proposed amendments were offered and the committee barely got through a third of them before chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) reluctantly brought down the gavel. Read More »

Box office vs. Xbox

Consumer Spending Hollywood is not having a very jolly holiday season so far. Last weekend not only was the worst weekend of the year in terms of total box-office grosses, it was the worst since September 2008. Dividing the weekend’s grosses by the average ticket price, in fact, suggests the number of Americans actually going to a movie theater over the weekend was the lowest since right after the terrorist attacks of September 11.

It isn’t just a one-week phenomenon, either. Data from the MPAA show that total theatrical admissions — butts in seats — have fallen fairly steadily since 2002, with a brief spike in 2009 due to the release Avatar, the highest grossing movie of all time.

Ticket-price inflation and the introduction of 3D, for which theaters have been able to charge a premium, have largely masked the effect, allowing gross receipts to hold steady or even grow over that period. But the overall erosion of the audience really ought to be a bigger concern for the studios than their public comments would suggest.  Read More »

Oregon senator may get rated X by Hollywood

Legislation Senator Ron Wyden probably isn’t invited to the MPAA Christmas party here in Washington this year. The Oregon Democrat single-handedly held up passage of the PROTECT-IP Act by placing a hold on bill, preventing it from coming to the floor for a vote, and is co-author, with Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, of the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act, a bi-cameral bill aimed at preempting both PROTECT-IP and the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the MPAA’s two highest legislative priorities.

That alone would be enough to make Wyden unpopular around the Jack Valenti Building on Eye Street. But he’s also no going after one of the MPAA’s favorite anti-piracy enforcement programs: the Department of Homeland Security’s domain-name seizure program, Operation in Our Sites. Read More »

Why publishers should embrace Amazon’s Netflix for e-books plan

Copyright As a lover of used bookstores and delighted owner of many dusty old, out-of-print volumes plucked from $2 and 3-for$5, bins I hate to hear myself say this. But if I were a publisher I would leap at Amazon’s purported plans to offer Kindle users a Netflix-like subscription plan for e-books.

Traditionally, publishers have had only two bites at the apple: the hardcover/trade paperback window, followed by the mass market paperback release. E-books have introduced a new format but it has not yet created a new release window. Instead, the e-book release is wedged in awkwardly between or alongside the traditional windows, cannibalizing both. Read More »

Court makes a hash of online storage

Copyright Most of the initial post-game commentary on the U.S. District Judge William Pauley III’s long-awaited order in the  MP3tunes case (embedded below) has focused on the court’s finding on whether the online music locker service qualifies for the safe harbor protections in the DMCA, and its implications for other would-be cloud storage services (basically it does qualify, according to the court, although both MP3tunes and CEO Michael Robertson personally were found liable for contributory infringement, which is not covered by the §512). But the ruling’s most lasting impact may come from Judge Pauley’s almost cursory dismissal of the record label’s public performance claim. Read More »

Ripping yarns

Copyright The British government on Wednesday released its long-awaited set of proposals for updating U.K. copyright law for the twenty-first century. Sort of.

The actual report (PDF) might best be described as notional, or perhaps aspirational — a set of ideas the government is publicly endorsing but with formal legislative language to follow later, sometimes much later. In some critical areas, in fact, the report manages to raise more questions than it answers.

One such area concerns format-shifting, or what the report calls “private copying.” Here’s what the report has to say on the matter: Read More »