The un-reality of Partygate

The White House party crashers is not a subject that would usually occupy The Media Wonk. But here in Washington, with so many people running about, flapping their arms like frightened hens over the horror of it all, it’s a very difficult story to ignore. After the crashers themselves and White House social secretary Desiree Rogers declined to appear before Congress to explain themselves (the latter on separation of powers grounds) some on the Hill are talking subpoenas, three Secret Service agents have but put on leave and could lose their jobs, the crashers are lawyering up and the cable news networks have created logos and assigned theme music to the story, a sure sign we’re about to go wall-to-wall on this.

salahi-obamaFeh. I’m with White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, who had to remind overheated reporters at the daily brief Thursday that this isn’t exactly Watergate. It’s a security screw-up in which no one got hurt and the president was in no proximate danger. Worth an internal reveiw by the Secret Service and White House to be sure. But Congressional hearings? Please.

That said, if Congress is determined to start firing out subpeonas, here’s my suggestion: Bravo. The network has been asked little and said less about the incident, even though it was following Michaele Salahi around with a camera all day leading up to the state dinner as part of the preliminary screening for Real Housewives of DC. They followed when she crashed the Washington Redskins Cheerleaders reunion party, where she pretended to be a former member of the squad and made a nuisance of herself.  I’m sure more such stunts will surface in coming days (they always do, like sex tapes.) So why isn’t anyone asking Bravo about its role in encouraging, or perhaps even participating in,  what was, at a minimum, silly and annoying behavior and at worst, possible criminal activity?

Now would be the perfect time for a little reality show reality check. Bravo is owned by NBC Universal, which just announced its pending merger with cable giant Comcast, creating an new media behemoth with myriad conflicts of interest, potential antitrust problems and potential to have a significant and baleful impact on media diversity. Regulators at the FCC, FTC and DOJ are just beginning to pick through the details of the deal. I say, put Bravo under the hot lights and let’s see what the hell it thought it was doing encouraging a freak show act like the Salahis to crash a state dinner.

Missing data points in the IIPA copyright study

A couple of data points I would have liked to have seen but could not find in the study released Monday by the International Intellectual Property Alliance on the copyright industries’ $1.5 trillion contribution to U.S. GDP:

1)  What portion of the economic activity in what the report classify as “non-core” copyright industries is being counted toward that $1.5 trillion? Following classifications established by the World Intellectual Property Organization in 2004, the report divides Copyright-symbolthe copyright industries into four categories: Core industries (movies, TV, books, newspapers, recorded music, computer software); Partial copyright industries (industries in which a portion of their output is eligible for copyright protection, e.g. fabric, jewelry, furniture); Non-Dedicated Support industries (transportation, telecommunications, etc.); and Interdependent industries (CE manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers, blank media etc.). Together, the four make up the report’s “total copyright industries.”

According to the report the core industries contributed $889 billion to U.S. GDP in 2007, the last year for which data are available, while the non-core industries contributed $636 billion. Not all economic activity in those related industries is related to copyrighted works, however, as the authors of the report acknowledge. So how much are they assigning to the copyright category? “A portion,” according the report. How big a portion? The report doesn’t say. Read More »

Vive la France?

french-flagAs often as the Pirate Party of Sweden was condemned at the World Copyright Summit Tuesday, speakers heaped praise on the French government for passing the Creation and Internet law implementing a system of “graduated response” (i.e. “three-strikes”) to policing illegal file-sharing.

“I strongly believe that if we’re going to be successful in this fast-paced digital age, a solid partnership between the copyright community and the Internet Service Providers is crucial,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said in a morning keynote. “Many countries have begun to take action by working closely with ISPs to curb online piracy. For example, France has adopted a three strikes law, which calls for ISPs to suspend a subscriber’s service if they are accused three times of pirating copyrighted material. Across the globe, from Japan to the UK, from Australia to Brazil, there have been engaging discussions within the industry on how best to proceed on this front.” Read More »

Just a thought…

…but does Google’s announcement that it will begin selling ebooks later this year through a more or less straight-foward e-commerce platform mean it expects its proposed settlement with publishers in the Google Books case to be rejected by the court? Or, regardless of what the court does, to be scotched by the Justice Department, which is currently investigating the settlement on possible anti-trust grounds?

Google should certainly have good sources in the Obama Administration. Aside from CEO Eric Schmidt’s campaigning on behalf of Barack Obama, three senior Google execs have joined the administration since January, the latest being former head of global public policy Andrew McLaughlin, who has been named  to the newly created position of Deputy CTO by the White House.

google-amazon2More to the point, the plan outlined by Google at BookExpo last weekend certainly raises a lot fewer questions than does the terms of the proposed settlement (insofar as anyone fully understands them). The settlement would make Google effectively the exclusive seller of out-of-print by still-in-copyright books and lead the creation of a vast new rights clearing house under Google’s control for in-print books.

Without the leverage of a court order (should the settlement be rejected) Google would need some other way to make in-roads with publishers and on Amazon’s current dominance of the ebook market. Allowing  publishers to set the retail price of ebooks, as Google is now proposing, and leveraging its global reach to help publishers reach beyond Amazon’s walled Kindle garden would be the two obvious moves.

DOJ urges court to pass on Cablevision case

supreme-courtWell I feel like an idiot (again). No sooner had The Media Wonk posted his idle speculation that prospective-Justice Sonia Sotomayor might provide a crucial vote for cert. in the Cablevision case than the Department of Justice submitted its long-awaited brief in the case strongly urging the Supreme Court to take a pass. While not the final word on that matter — that still belongs to the cour t– it now seems highly unlikely the court will take the case seeing as it specifically asked for DOJ’s views.

The DOJ’s recommendation is largely being reported as a victory for technology interests and a defeat for the studios (see here, here and here). And as an immediate practical and legal matter, that’s true, in that a denial of cert. by the court would let stand the Second Circuit’s ruling that Cablevision’s remote-storage DVR service does not directly infringe the networks’ copyrights and pave the way for Cablevision (and likely other cable operators) to roll out RS-DVR.

But if I were technology promoter I wouldn’t get too comfortable just yet with the Obama Administration’s views on the proper balance between technological innovation and the protection of intellectual property. At least not based on the Cablevision brief, the lead author of which was solicitor general Elena Kagan. Read More »