At first blush, a lot of people might find that to be a laughable proposition. But a prominent architect of the Recording Industry Association of America's legal strategy confided to me last week that his colleagues are being "outgunned" in the legislative skirmishing over new copyright laws.
It may seem counterintuitive, but there is some truth to that statement. It explains why Marybeth Peters from the U.S. Copyright Office is saying that the entertainment industry won't get what it wants from Congress before politicians leave town for Thanksgiving.
That'd be fine by Michael Petricone, vice president for technology policy at the Consumer Electronics Association. "The days when they can go to Congress and get a blank check for everything they want are over, I hope," Petricone said.
Predicting what copyright legislation will be enacted in the last days of the 108th Congress is a risky business, but one thing is certain: The list of laws will not include the Induce Act, which is revered by the entertainment industry but reviled by technology companies.
The Induce Act is, of course, the controversial bill designed to target peer-to-peer networks. When it prompted a deluge of phone calls to Congress amid concerns it would imperil products like Apple Computer's iPod, its Senate sponsors ordered everyone to sit down at a table in closed-door negotiations. But no workable compromise emerged.
The trench warfare of copyright politicking tends to be predictable: The Motion Picture Association of America and the record labels staff the fortifications in the east while an assortment of technology companies hunker down in the west. Then they fire volleys back and forth until one side runs out of ammunition.
That's what usually happens. When the Induce Act materialized, however, the tech industry won by calling in the heavy artillery in the form of broader-than-usual alliances. By venturing beyond the usual cluster of Silicon Valley companies, the allies managed to prevent the kind of consensus from forming that has characterized recent copyright laws.Among the new allies: the Association of American Universities, the American Conservative Union, the American Library Association, BellSouth, MCI, RadioShack, SBC Communications and Verizon Communications. Even The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal slammed the Induce Act in their editorial pages. (CNET Networks, publisher of News.com, also is on record as opposing the bill.)
Sarah Deutsch, a vice president at Verizon, said the Induce Act was temporarily defeated because the entertainment industry overreached, not because their lobbyists are losing influence. "It's very hard for me to believe that either the RIAA or MPAA could be outgunned on intellectual-property issues," Deutsch said. "If they're not succeeding, it's because they've drafted an overly broad piece of legislation that's garnered lots of opposition."
During the last decade, the tech industry has grown far more spendthrift in purchasing political favors. In 1992, the computer and Internet industry gave a total of
By the 2004 election cycle, those numbers had almost reached parity--at $21.1 million from tech donors and $23.9 million from the entertainment industry. Looking exclusively at spending by lobbyists, the technology industry already handily outpaces its television and music counterparts.
Yet even fat checks from technology companies can't guarantee victory. The RIAA and MPAA remain more adept at importing celebrities, hiring former politicians and wielding the legislative process as an offensive weapon. "The content industries have always been more government-focused than the technology industries," said Consumer Electronics Association's Petricone. "The resources they can bring to bear in a legislative battle far, far outweigh those of anyone on the other side."
The next few days will put that notion to the test. With the Induce Act now moribund, attention is shifting to a package of copyright and peer-to-peer bills that may be glued together and voted on this week as part of a new Intellectual Property Protection Act. Candidates for inclusion are the Pirate Act, which would let the Justice Department file civil suits against infringers; a House proposal to increase criminal penalties for illegal file-swapping; and a measure to target the illicit use of camcorders in movie theaters.
As of Friday, the buzz was that the "omnibus" package will be stripped of its most objectionable portions and turned into a "minibus" copyright bill. That might give the entertainment industry some solace. But it's far less than its lobbyists had expected.
Declan McCullagh is CNET News.com's chief political correspondent. He spent more than a decade in Washington, D.C., chronicling the busy intersection between technology and politics. Previously, he was the Washington bureau chief for Wired News, and a reporter for Time.com, Time magazine and HotWired. McCullagh has taught journalism at American University and been an adjunct professor at Case Western University.
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