geert on Sat, 13 Apr 2002 22:06:02 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] wendy grossman: against net censorship



Wendy M Grossman

Dear Chairman Coble.

This week, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet
and Intellectual Property is requesting public comments on digital
music and copyright issues. Comments must be received by April 8. The
EFF has a list of whom to contact and where. Here is my letter to the

I am increasingly concerned about the future of intellectual property
and digital media. Intellectual property matters have long been the
province of specialists, who were the people primarily affected by
them in the days when only businesses had the wherewithal to make
copies of movies, books, or recorded music. What is happening now is a
protectionist backlash, in which the entertainment industry seeks to
further its own interests at the expense of the public and creators

All copyright law has always been a balance between the interests of
creators and those of the public. This balance is in danger of being

One of the entertainment industry's most unpleasant rhetorical devices
is to claim that they are acting on behalf of creators - artists and
writers who need to be paid for the intellectual property they
produce. It is true that creators need to be paid; but the
entertainment industry has a long history of doing its best not to pay
them. One example: in March 2001, after suing the file-sharing service
Napster to death citing the need to pay artists, the RIAA asked the
the Copyright Office to let it avoid paying royalties to songwriters
and song publishers on its own "legitimate" online music services.

In 1984, a single vote going the other way on the Supreme Court could
have killed at birth the entire video industry. I urge the committee
to avoid a regime that could effectively kill off new media, which
have even greater potential. If the currently proposed copyright
regime is embedded in our technology, it will effectively up-end one
of our abiding democratic principles: that we are innocent until
proven guilty.


- Repeal the circumvention portions of the Digital Millennium
Copyright Act. This appalling piece of legislation risks criminalizing
an entire generation for behavior that is arguably completely normal.
In addition, it threatens research into cryptography and security

- Make exclusive, perpetual all-rights contracts illegal. No creator
should ever have to ask someone else's permission to use his own work.

- Kill legislation like the new Consumer Broadband and Digital
Television Promotion Act. Much intellectual property is created
outside the auspices of the official entertainment industry. The many
small music publishers, creators of independent films, Web site owners
who carefully collect detailed information on specific topics, even
those taking pictures of their grandchildren should not have their
interests steamrolled by the demands of an industry that is
increasingly in the hands of only a very few giant multinational
conglomerates. It is wrong for standard hardware to be required to
embed copying restrictions that limit a user's control over his own
machine to favor a select special interest group. In addition, the
rights and needs of the majority of non-entertainment-related
businesses that rely on their computer systems should be considered.

- Help small, noncommercial Webcasters to survive by ensuring that the
copyright arbitration royalty panel sets realistic rates for them.

- Support legislation like the Music Online Competition Act, which
promotes fair competition for Webcasters.

- Ban practices such as copy-protecting CDs, which prohibit
convenience copying and embed errors in music. Many people prefer to
listen to music on their computers via CD-ROM drives rather than on a
traditional stereo system.

- Congress should act instead to require the embedding of
public-interest limits to copyright restrictions into digital rights
management schemes. For example, intellectual property owners should
not be allowed to bypass the first-sale and fair use doctrines by
tying individual titles (whether they be ebooks or digital music/video
files) to specific machines. In addition, they should not be allowed
to use formats that restrict access to the blind. Requiring screen
access software compatibility should be the digital world equivalent
of the Americans with Disabilities Act that requires ramps to aid
access to buildings.

- Music, book, and movie publishers should not be allowed to retain
copyright to material they refuse to release to the public. Either
they should be required to make it available (preferably in some form
that is easier to access than a locked filing cabinet in a disused
lavatory in the cellar with no lights or stairs and a sign saying
"Beware of the leopard") or they should be required to return the
rights to the original creator(s). Book publishing contracts generally
have included such reversion clauses, but recording, TV, and movie
contracts typically do not.

- New forms of intellectual property come into existence every day,
from the database of domain names to the complilations of messages
that constitute Web message boards and Usenet, to data compiled
cooperatively by users (such as CDDB). Thought needs to be given to
ensuring that people retain access to the collections of metadata they
help create.

- Personal privacy and commercial confidentiality are both seriously
threatened by digital rights management schemes which charge per use
and track copies. Do not allow the creation of corporate "Thought

I am an American citizen and voter, a former full-time musician, and a
current full-time writer. I am the author of books such as net.wars
and From Anarchy to Power: the Net Comes of Age (both NYU Press). Full
details of my background are available at

Sincerely yours,

Wendy M. Grossman


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