Digital Freedom Campaign
“The business model is crumbling”
From the piano roll to the VHS, from the DVD to the iPod®, the entertainment industry is a constantly changing and evolving machine of endless innovation to help spread art, information and consumerism. Such has become an inevitable trend in the life of the music and film business. The Digital Freedom Campaign was launched just over a year ago and is comprised of a group of fair use advocates who are exposing the legal persecution of innovators, inventors, artists and consumers in the new digital age. Fair use refers to the doctrine in United States copyright law, which allows consumers limited use of copyrighted material without permission from those who hold the rights. The Campaign is NOT advocating digital piracy and in fact holds a strong stance against it. What it does stand to protect is what consumers, among others, do with their legally acquired material, where, when, and how they use it.
The campaign itself is backed by a number of groups who advocate and represent new digital rights, technology, art, and innovation. The coalition of advocates are spreading awareness around the country and stopping at universities, among other places, to have Q and A’s with knowledgeable professionals with real world experience in the industry. The campaign came through Boston around the beginning of October stopping at Harvard, Northeastern, and the meeting I attended, at Boston University. Among the speakers were John Schultz, a lawyer from D.C., Wendy Gordon, a law professor from B.U., Fritz Attaway, Executive Vice President and Washington General Counsel for the MPAA, and Seth Kroll, a working artist from the Boston area. As both a prospective law student and a current member of Harvard’s Recording Artist Project, I felt compelled to see what the campaign’s policies were about.
Spearheading the campaign is Gary Shapiro, who is the President and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (among the supporters of the DFC), chairman of the Home Recording Rights Coalition, and innovator of television among other things (co-founded HDTV). Among his most ardent claims about the travesties of our current legal debacle in the industry, he insists that the frivolous litigation against new technologies is sending our economy and the mindset of American business in the wrong direction. He stresses that we need to be open to change in the technological frontier of consumerism. The top five CE (consumer electronics) growth sectors from 2006 to 2007 were in DVRs, network routers/hubs, MP3s, cable modems, and digital cameras. All of which are ways to copy and manipulate legally acquired content, be it through the Internet or otherwise. These products are causing the industry’s landscape to change drastically, and the business model that major interests once knew is falling apart. From 2000 to 2006 the consumer electronics, which the campaign’s advocacy encompasses, had grown by over $60 billion dollars, and if projections are correct will surpass the $100 billion mark by 2008. That’s a cool $40 billion in revenue growth. To restrict the ability of such technologies and the rights of consumers just doesn’t seem good for our economy. Opposing legislation and targeted technologies include: The PERFORM Act (S.256), DVD Copy Control Association v. Kaleidescape, 20th Century Fox Film Corporation v. Cablevision Systems Corporation, Atlantic Recording Company v. XM Satellite Radio, and Viacom International Inc. v. Google Inc. These are but a few of the many lawsuits against only a fraction of the companies, all involving content that was legally acquired by consumers well within their fair use statute to do what they do. Fair Use, thanks to the many advocates that I have afore mentioned, is now a piece of legislation called the Fair Use Act (H.R. 1201). Amending the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the Fair Use Act would allow consumers, libraries, and universities to utilize their newly granted fair use rights to use media for non-commercial purposes, as well as reduce litigation against legitimate innovators by limiting the availability of statutory damages.
I feel it imperative to reiterate that this legal conflict is not a new one. Music and film as artistic enterprises, as well as their consumers, have been fighting this battle since the concept of copyright was invented. We are but another chapter in the long fable of legal animosity between technology and major content interest’s need for control over what people do with intellectual property. I urge you to visit their site at digitalfreedom.org, email your senator, and spread the word if you can. It would be sensible for you to do so if you’re a musician or have interest in not just the industry, but in the future of your rights over what is bound to encompass and engulf our country technologically.