Protecting the government from technology

February 9, 2006

With the advent and increased usage of new technology, the law of the jungle reigns in copyright infringements through new media, and many challenges lie ahead, say leading innovators and lawmakers.

"(The) challenge is not so much for the government but for industry," said Ian Taylor, member of Parliament and former minister for science and technology at the Department of Trade and Industry in the United Kingdom.

Raising the question of how, or even if, government should respond to the new technological environment, Taylor told UPI that the most important question to consider is, "What does the consumer want."

Seeing this as more of a business challenge than a governmental one, Taylor said that the consumer increasingly expects to be able to do things with their technology, so the test is really how people entering the industry will be able to protect themselves.

Using the recent example of the British pop sensation group, Arctic Monkeys, and their distortion of the market model through distributing their first single over the Internet for free, followed by the release of a very well-selling CD, he said "The market will have to fight it out."

Taylor added, "Apart from the World Intellectual Property Organization, there is no specific role for government to intervene."

The Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights of Geneva based WIPO is currently advancing a broadcast treaty, under which international protection of broadcasting organizations will be discussed later this year.

"It'll take five years for the treaty to work its way through," said Tom Giovanetti, president of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Innovation, citing the more immediate need for the U.S. government to work on legislature governing IP rights.

Speaking on a panel discussing the government's appropriate role on Intellectual Property rights at the Congressional Net Caucus Conference on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Fritz Attaway, senior vice president for government affairs at the Motion Picture Association of America, said "the government must find the right balance between the market and interference -- in most cases I think it should be a marketplace solution."

Attaway also discussed what is referred to as the "analog hole" legislation, formally known as The Digital Transition Security Act of 2005 -- requiring high value content only to be passed through digital solutions, closing the analog hole that, up until now, essentially implied that if one could see or hear a form of media, it could be copied, with rare few exceptions.

"We believe it is an appropriate issue for government to take up," he said, enabling for a short-term solution to the issue of converting analog video content to a digital format, transitioning and limiting how content is viewed and used.

The analog hole piece of legislation would be a dream come true for Hollywood, but others beg to differ.

Citing the influx of the content industry at the Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas in January, Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge and a communications policy attorney, said "that says to me the market place is working."

Frequent references to Apple and iTunes argue the case for a lesser need for government intervention in IP issues. "Apple can aggressively promote iTunes and advertise iTunes," said Giovannetti, "Apple negotiates property rights first -- and that works, we believe."

Citing a need for that concept to be the foundation of discussions on whether government should intervene in IP, Giovannetti said "if you want to create something and give it away, that's great, that's called freedom, but if you want to exert some control, that should be protected too."

Sohn discussed the need to address licensing issues instead of what are in her view, problem-causing government technology mandates, noting "why do we need the government when the market place is very robust, consumers are getting what they want and the market is active and flourishing."

"The markets don't work if intellectual property is not protected," said Giovannetti.

"Congress needs to think about where that line is drawn," said innovator and entrepreneur Jason Krikorian co-founder, chief financial officer and vice president of Sling Media, speaking as a part of the panel, "unless we carve out explicitly in bills room for expansion."

Following a heated debate between several members of the panel during the discussion, Taylor pointed out that legislators should stand back and not participate in the debate.

Copyright 2006 by United Press International

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