A Look At The Technologies & Industries Senators Leahy & Hatch Would Have Banned In The Past
from the dedicated to infringing activities dept
The more I look at the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act,” (COICA) bill proposed by Senators Patrick Leahy and Orrin Hatch (and co-sponsored by Sens. Herb Kohl, Arlen Specter, Charles Schumer, Dick Durbin, Sheldon Whitehouse, Amy Klobuchar, Evan Bayh and George Voinovich) the worse it looks. The idea behind the bill is to give the Justice Department the ability to avoid due process in shutting down or blocking access to sites deemed “dedicated to infringing activities.”
With such a broad definition of offerings dedicated to infringing activities, I thought it might be worth running through a list of technologies that and services that were all deemed “dedicated to infringing activities” in their early days, to give you a sense of what these Senators would have banned in the past with such a law:
- Hollywood itself: The history of Hollywood is that it was set up on the west coast in order to avoid Thomas Edison’s attempt to control the movie making business with various patents. Hollywood was very much an entire industry dedicated to infringing activities in its early years.
- The recording industry: The origins of modern copyright law in the US came out of fears by musicians that the concept of any kind of automatic playing or “recorded” music would destroy the market for real live musicians. The fear of the player piano was a big, big issue in the early days, with sheet music producers claiming that piano rolls were infringing. So, the early parts of the recording industry were very much “dedicated to infringing activities.”
- Radio: When radio first came about, it too was “dedicated to infringing activities.” That’s because it played music on the radio without paying.
- Cable TV: The very early days of cable TV involved the cable companies offering network television without paying for — and, even worse, they were charging customers for access to others’ content. The very core of the original cable TV system was “dedicated to infringing activities.” Charlton Heston denounced cable as “depriving actors of compensation.”
- Photocopying machines: When the Xerox machine came on the scene in the late 1950s, it freaked out the publishing industry who denounced it as being dedicated to infringing activities. Just as the 1909 Copyright Act was mainly a response to misguided fears of the player piano, some say the 1976 Copyright Act was in response to the Xerox machine. Some of the modern concepts around fair use came about due to lawsuits from publishers claiming that the photocopier was, in fact, dedicated to infringing activities.
- The VCR: By this point, you should know the famous Jack Valenti quote: “I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.” Yup. Dedicated to infringing activity.
- Cassette tapes: “Home taping is killing music.” Need I say more?
- The MP3 player: Remember the RIAA’s lawsuit against the Diamond Rio? They declared that such a device “stymies the market for . . . works and frustrates the development of legitimate digitally downloadable music.” So, that iPod? Yes, it, too, was dedicated to infringing activity.
- The DVR: In 2001, a bunch of TV companies sued, claiming that the Replay TV DVR was an “unlawful scheme” that “attacks the fundamental economic underpinnings of free television and basic nonbroadcast services”
Notice a pattern yet? All sorts of new technologies tend to be berated and condemned as “dedicated to infringing activity,” by legacy content industries when those new offerings first come along. It’s only later on, when the industry learns to use those new tools of creating, recording, reproducing, performing, distributing, sharing and promoting that they realize those tools turned out to be quite useful in expanding, rather than shrinking, the industry.
Yet, here we are, with the list of Senators above, effectively looking to not allow that evolution to happen at all. They won’t even give these new tools a fair trial (which, at the very least, was afforded to many of the tools in this list). Instead, they want to let the Justice Department (which, again, employs many former lawyers of the legacy industries) to simply put together a list of tools they believe infringe and to avoid due process in getting those tools effectively banned. The people making this list are not visionaries. They don’t see how these tools can be quite useful to content creators. They’re anti-visionaries. They only see how the new tools change the rules for the legacy industry. Do we really want anti-visionaries outlawing the next movie industry? Or the next VCR? Or the next iPod?