A SXSW Interactive event on copyright law gave opportunity to a diverse of panel of critics to openly attack the current status of copyright law in the US, and the role the government, and the entertainment industry, has in the current problems.
The panel, moderated by Margot Kaminski, Executive Director of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, also featured an attorney, a web entrepreneur, a former Washington staffer, and a fellow academic who also works for the World Wide Web Consortium.
Andrew Bridges, the attorney, is a partner at Fenwick & West LLP, was instrumental in claiming back the Dajaz1.com domain after the Immigration and Customs Enforcement had it seized as part of "Operation In Our Sites". ICE eventually dropped the case against Dajaz1.com, a website that posted leaked songs (sometimes intentionally leaked by artists for promotional reasons), but only a year after the seizure.
Ben Huh represented web businesses on the panel. Huh is the CEO of the Cheezburger Network.
Another panelist, Wendy Seltzer, is a Policy Counsel to the World Wide Web Consortium and a Fellow with Yale Law School's Information Society Project. And the panel was rounded off by man of the moment Derek Khanna, the Republican staffer infamously fired after posting a "sensible" view on copyright.
The panelist all had something to say on the copyright status quo, even if most of what they had to say represented only one side of the argument.
Bridges warned the audience of the dangers of current copyright laws to web businesses, citing his experience in the Dajaz1.com case. Huh also noted that has current laws been expanded as was proposed with SOPA/PIPA, his business would have been in serious danger, as it depends largely on user uploads. The estimated cost of $300 to $500 to establish copyright on each uploaded image as required by SOPA/PIPA, with 23 million images uploaded already, would have been crippling to say the least. Current and proposed laws all attempt to hamper innovation, but "Innovation on the Internet shouldn't require permission," Seltzer told the captivated audience.
But with businesses temporarily out of the crosshairs of the entertainment industry and D.C., it's consumers that are now being targeted by the recently launched Copyright Alert System (CAS). Under CAS, net users will be warned up to 6 times regarding their potentially copyright infringing activities, but the panel all agreed that false positives will be a big issue, especially when there's no requirement for rights holders to prove infringement beyond a reasonable doubt. Bridges's suggestion, that by turning the 6-strikes law backwards onto rights holder and force them to lose protection under copyright law if they're found to have filed 6 or more false positives, was met with loud applause by the audience.
As to why Washington is so keen to help create laws that hamper innovation, and destroy consumer rights, Khanna, with his political background, offered some insights. He explained that, from the Washington perspective (no doubt reinforced daily by lobbying dollars), web piracy is a job killer and a threat to the American economy, and as such, introducing harsher anti-piracy laws is a no brainer.
And as long as this view remains entrenched in the mindsets of the the powers that be, the rights of Internet businesses and consumers will always remain expendable.