Monday, January 19, 2009

IP policy remains bi-partisan, but for how long?

In a retrospective on the Bush Administration's technology record, CNET's Declan McCullagh and Stephanie Condon note:
Stronger protections for intellectual property were put in place with the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act. Copyright law tends to be relatively bipartisan: there's no reason to believe that a Democratic administration would have been any different. President Clinton signed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (which was overwhelmingly approved by a bipartisan congressional majority) into law, and Obama has chosen the recording industry's favorite lawyer for a senior administration position.
I think CNET's conclusion about the current bi-partisan nature of IP policy is right, but I'm not at all confident that it will remain so over the medium to long-term. I see troubling signs on the horizon (and even closer), where the political left and the copyleft seem to be converging. Candidate Obama touts the support of Larry Lessig when he announced his technology policy. The major academic IP centers -- at Berkeley and Stanford and Harvard -- are relentlessly hostile to copyright owners. Students (who tend to be on the left side of the political spectrum) are mobilizing to fight copyright enforcement. The blogosphere spews contempt for the RIAA and MPAA and anyone else with the temerity to sue to enforce their rights. Even prominent liberal political bloggers have taken up the copyleft banner. (Says Kos with typical restraint: "There might not be any bigger scumbags in the corporate world today than the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).")

The impact of all this won't be immediate. Thankfully, Obama seems headed toward appointment of a White House Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator who actually believes in enforcing intellectual property laws. But I fear that the current bi-partisan consensus in favor of strong IP enforcement won't survive as the cohort of young Americans influenced by academia and the blogosphere move into positions of authority as legislators, lawyers, and judges (not to mention voters).

1 comment:

  1. I disagree. You touch on the issue I see as a better prediction, however - I see this as more of an age/generation issue. Now, if a lasting generation gap where young=Democrat and old=Republican actually emerges, then your prediction that copyright becomes a partisan issue may come true. It won't be direct cause and effect, though.

    If you can find me young conservatives (under the age of 30) who have studied the issue and believe that the ideal length of copyright protection should be author's life + 70 years, I'll be shocked. If you can find me young conservatives who believe that time/place/media shifting should be restricted by copyright owners through DRM, I will also be shocked. The same goes for orphan works and the RIAA lawsuit campaign built on dubious technical theories.

    We can talk enforcement all we want - long term, I think stronger, ham-fisted enforcement of bad policy will simply increase the pressure for policy reform. Young Americans have started to notice, and we happen to skew left in today's political climate. Maybe we'll have to wait until the average lawmaker was born after 1975, but public perception is already shifting around this issue.


Comments here are moderated. I appreciate substantive comments, whether or not they agree with what I've written. Stay on topic, and be civil. Comments that contain name-calling, personal attacks, or the like will be rejected. If you want to rant about how evil the RIAA and MPAA are, and how entertainment companies' employees and attorneys are bad people, there are plenty of other places for you to go.