Regulation

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.

Kimberley-Harris

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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Old media falling out of favor at DOJ

Antitrust The U.S. Justice Department has opened a “wide-ranging antitrust investigation” into whether cable operators are illegally using bandwidth caps and other tactics to try to squash growing competition from online video services like Netflix, the Wall Street Journal reported last week.  Subsequent reporting by the Journal revealed the investigation also covers the satellite TV services Dish Network and DirecTV, and that the feds are also looking into whether pay-TV operators are using so-called most-favored nation clauses in carriage agreements with the networks to restrict the network’s ability to license their content to online, over-the-top distributors.

The investigation and the issues at stake, particularly the department’s apparent focus on most-favored nation agreements, carry distinct echoes of the lawsuit the Justice Department filed in April against Apple and several leading publishers over an alleged conspiracy to fix prices in the e-book market. As in the cable industry investigation, the e-book lawsuit charges Apple with using most-favored nation clauses in its agency licensing agreements with the publishers to ensure that neither Amazon nor any other e-book retailer gets a better deal than Apple got or can sell e-books at prices lower than Apple’s price. Read More »

Comcast’s Xbox loop hole?

Net Neutrality Here’s an interesting one: Comcast is getting ready to roll out its Xfinity On Demand app for the Xbox 360, giving Xfinity TV subscribers who also have an Xbox Live Gold subscription access to Comcast’s on-demand library of content through their Xbox console and through the Kinect interface if they also have the gesture-control add-on (h/t Ars Technica).

That content includes thousands of movies and tens of thousands of TV titles that Comcast currently makes available to subscribers on-demand across a wide range of platforms. Since the Xfinity for Xbox service requires users to have at least one TV in the house connected to a Comcast set-top box, the new Xbox app presumably will also include access to the new Netflix-like Xfinity Streamix subscription service Comcast recently introduced that lets Comcast Digital Video customers stream thousands of additional movies and TV shows on-demand through their TV set-top box.

Best of all, according to Comcast’s FAQ page on the new Xbox app, Xfinity content streamed through Xbox Live will not count toward subscriber’s 250 GB per month data cap, because the content “is being delivered over our private IP network and not the public Internet.” Read More »

Pay to play

Net Neutrality The Wall Street Journal generated some buzz this morning with its story about the rude awakening greeting owners of the new 4G-enabled iPad when they discover that all the streaming video they’re consuming on their speedy new tablets is crushing their monthly data allotments. A weekend’s worth of March Madness can easily chew up 3GB of data from AT&T or Verizon, leaving iPad owners with nothing for the rest of the month unless they’re willing to pay an additional $10 per gigabyte.

The Journal may have buried the lede a bit, though, at least as far as content owners are concerned. Three grafs from the bottom of a long piece the paper mentions that AT&T is “studying a plan to give app developers and content providers the option to pay for the mobile data their products use, thereby keeping those apps and videos from counting against a user’s allotment of data, kind of like an 800-number for apps.”

As the website MacRumors put it, the plan “would presumably allow bandwidth usage for certain apps to be free. For example, watching shows from a TV network app such as ABC Player might not count against your monthly bandwidth allotment. Instead, ABC would pay AT&T (or Verizon) for the mobile bandwidth consumed. In return, ABC would likely see increased usage of their app to watch shows and more revenue from in-show advertising.” 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 »

Facebook prepares to face down competition, in Washington

Lobbying It’s no secret that Facebook knows a lot about its users. Just how much can still startle, however, as is evident from perusing the database compiled by the web site Europe vs. Facebook (h/t Forbes). In Europe, every citizen in the EU has the right to access all the data a company has collected on him or her, and based on the personal Facebook dossiers provided to Europe vs. Facebook (PDF), the print outs can run to hundreds, even thousands of pages.

With last week’s announcements of the revamped news feed (now called the timeline) and the integration of Spotify and other media services into the Facebook platform, the social network will be collecting vast new quantities and categories of data on its users, more or less in real-time. 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 »

Wireless bandwidth bill on the last train out of Crazytown (Updated)

Bandwidth For those who can bear to look, the debt ceiling bill being humped through the Senate this weekend by majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) could turn out to be critical to the long-term prospects of the mobile video delivery business.

In an effort to find every possible dollar of deficit reduction without actually cutting federal programs, Reid has wedged a provision into the bill authorizing the FCC to conduct “incentive auctions” of slices of radio spectrum currently controlled by broadcasters for use as wireless broadband capacity.

The idea is that broadcasters would “voluntarily” relinquish frequencies they’re not currently using. Government agencies would also contribute some spectrum currently assigned to them by the FCC. Some of the newly collected spectrum would be allocated Read More »