[linux-elitists] Chalmers on Valenti

Don Marti dmarti@zgp.org
Mon Apr 9 17:28:19 PDT 2001


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Copyright: let the market decide?
Rachel Chalmers
Apr 06, 2001 08:26 pm ET

San Francisco - This week, the US Senate Judiciary Committee held
its second round of hearings on online entertainment, and a fine
old brouhaha it was. Senator Orrin Hatch, committee chairman, Utah
Republican and writer of Mormon inspirational songs, kicked off
proceedings by citing three important developments since the last round
of hearings. First, of course, is the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court ruling
that upheld the injunction on Napster. Second is the decision of MP3.com
to settle its somewhat similar copyright case. Third are two very
recent initiatives to introduce record label-backed online subscription
services: Duet, from Vivendi-Universal and Sony, and MusicNet, from AOL
Time Warner, Bertelsmann, EMI and RealNetworks.

Corporate copyright-holders, in short, are making a comeback. As a
songwriter, Hatch has understandably mixed feelings about this. He
concluded his remarks with this quote from Woody Allen: "We stand
at a crossroads, one road leading to despair and hopelessness, the
other leading to extinction, and I hope we have the wisdom to choose
correctly."

Ranking Democratic Senator Ted Leahy was a bit more constructive. "At
our last hearing, each witness was asked about Congress' role here, and
each witness then stated clearly that no Congressional action was wanted
or needed and that the marketplace was the right place to resolve these
matters," he said. "I would be interested in hearing from our witnesses
how the marketplace is evolving, and how we are to make the best of
these times."

Richard Parsons, co-chief operating officer of AOL Time Warner,
gave Leahy exactly what he wanted. "The answer is simple: strong
market-driven competition," he testified. But Parsons' company wants
guaranteed copyright protection as well. Its paradoxical position
is easily explained by the fact that it is both the largest online
conduit of content, and one of the biggest corporate copyright holders
in the world. AOL Time Warner wants and needs it both ways: hands-off
laissez-faire economic rationalism when it boosts profits, and
government intervention if and when piracy imperils the bottom line ?
which, it must be noted, hasn't happened yet. Far from it.

Jack Valenti, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of
America, had a similarly self-contradictory line. "We are creating jobs
at three times the rate of the rest of the economy," he thundered. "We
bring in more revenues than aircraft, more than agriculture, more than
automobiles and auto parts. What is more astonishing and more valuable
is that the copyright industries have a surplus balance of trade with
every single country in the world."

As robust and ludicrously profitable as this mighty industry may appear,
it seems it is helpless before the terrifying prospect of ordinary
people time-shifting videos or making mix tapes for their friends.

"Creative property is private property. To take it without permission,
without payment to its owners, collides with the core values of this
society," Valenti warned. "With all the passion I can summon I tell this
Committee that if copyright is allowed to decay, then this nation will
begin the slow undoing of an immense economic asset, which will squander
our creative future. Who will invest the huge amounts of private risk
capital in the production of films if this creative property cannot be
protected from theft?"

Who indeed? As if anyone would ever create works of art, except for
money. It's like imagining that a world army of volunteers would write
an operating system good enough to threaten Microsoft. His critics
claim Valenti's position has nothing to do with rewarding artists and
everything to do with a cartel trying to cement its stranglehold on
distribution by raiding fair use and the public domain -- all with the
willing assistance of its allies on Capitol Hill. Valenti's testimony
did little to placate those critics. While money and power is on the
side of the studios, technology and sheer numbers are against them. No
easy end to the copyright war is in sight.

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-- 
Don Marti              "I've never sent or received a GIF in my life." 
dmarti@zgp.org            -- Bruce Schneier, Secrets and Lies, p. 246.
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