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July 23, 2004
On the Difficulty of Retrograde Motion
Seth Finkelstein writes that the "most chilling" moment from yesterday's hearing on the Induce Act was the moment when Senator Hatch warned that whether or not the bill passes in its present form, "something has to be done" about copyright infringement via peer-to-peer file sharing. It's not the concept of a solution itself that's chilling. It's that Congress appears willing to explore only a certain subset of solutions -- those that pose a threat to technological innovation, the traditional balance in copyright, or both.
Wendy Seltzer responded to the news yesterday that TiVo has been dragged into a battle with Hollywood over the "portability" of recorded television programs with an apropos warning: "Don't be lulled by the copyright industries' claims that 'it won't hurt much.' Ceding to technology mandates gives the entertainment companies a screw they'll just keep tightening."
The Induce Act doesn't propose a technology mandate. But it does propose to extend liability for copyright infringement the only inch that the entertainment industry would need to take a mile. Already, it has emboldened Copyright Office Registrar Marybeth Peters to argue that the Betamax doctrine ought to be abolished, presumably along with the 20 years of innovation it enabled.
Thankfully, the push to "do something" à la Orrin Hatch is facing push back. Evidently recognizing that the Induce Act would eventually come for its members, the Business Software Alliance is backing off from its endorsement of the bill as is. But as Ernest Miller points out, the bill "might never have gotten as far as it has without [BSA's] initial support."
It's not possible to overstate the importance of fighting this bill now, before it gets any further. Seth and Ernie each have had personal experience with battling uphill against misguided copyright law that remains firmly ensconced at the top. Retrograde motion is extremely difficult, and both time and resource-consuming. There aren't very many Seths or Ernies out there. Please, take a few minutes today to tell your representative why the Induce Act is the wrong way to deal with the conflict over P2P neworks. It's not too late to make a difference in this battle. Don't wait until it is.
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