A few days ago, Marvin Ammori published a piece on Slate titled, “Hollywood’s Copyright Lobbyists Are Like Exes Who Won’t Give Up”, in reference to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet holding a hearing regarding the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice and takedown system. In it, he alleges that the hearing’s existence, created to discuss the potential of voluntary initiatives among copyright stakeholders, is proof of a conspiratorial secret resurgence of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).
Ignoring the ludicrous nature of this claim — does every hearing that every committee holds in the entirety of the U.S. Congress have some secret ulterior purpose now? — his argument is demonstrably false. Let’s start with the facts: the DMCA notice and takedown system is the process by which content creators notify service providers that they are illegally distributing content. In exchange for working collaboratively with rights holders, service providers receive a “safe harbor” from prosecution. The House Judiciary subcommittee hearing tomorrow is an opportunity to discuss voluntary initiatives among stakeholders to curb piracy, not a chance to propose new legislation (and in case anyone has forgotten, SOPA was legislation). These voluntary initiatives include the 2013 Copyright Alert System (CAS), a private system for alerting and educating Internet subscribers of the service providers AT&T, Cablevision, Time Warner, Verizon and Comcast when they engage in digital piracy. Additional voluntary initiatives include promoting legitimate content services in search engine results (and downgrading illegitimate ones), removing the financial incentive for service provider to upload copyrighted content, and the 2007 User Generated Content Principles, among others.
Moreover, in his fear-inducing condemnation of the hearing, Ammori ignores that copyright infringement is a crime. If the best that we can do is an endless notice and takedown process then shouldn’t a discussion of how to improve this process be seen as an opportunity for innovative technological and collaborative solutions? The Internet has provided more ways than ever to enjoy content, and we need to make sure that the legal methods are the ones that are receiving attention and support from policymakers and companies. The existence of the Internet does not magically make content costless to produce, just because it is costless to distribute, and this pervasive belief that because you can access a product in your own home should make it free is not only unfair, it’s downright lazy.
No one is disputing SOPA died (it did), but that does not mean we have perfected the enforcement of copyright infringement and should walk away. And given the importance of copyright to the U.S. economy —the Department of Commerce estimates that in 2010, copyright-intensive industries accounted for $641 billion in value-added to GDP and 5.1 billion jobs — the desire for improvement should not be ridiculed. The hearing tomorrow is not, as Ammori alleges, some desperate Hollywood acting as ex-boyfriend looking to start a new SOPA-like relationship. In fact, the voluntary initiatives being promoted by content rights’ holders more closely resembles an acknowledgement that “we are never ever getting back together”.