NBC Universal Argues That Copy Protection Is Necessary

from the good-luck-with-that-plan dept

The NY Times is running an ongoing "debate" all week concerning issues having to do with copyright. Defending the entertainment industry's strategy is Rick Cotton, General Counsel of NBC Universal, and well known around here for various questionable comments made to support NBC's position of demanding that the government act to enforce NBC's obsolete business model (our favorite remains his argument that corn farmers are hurt by piracy, since fewer people will go to movies, meaning fewer people will buy popcorn). On the flip side is law professor Tim Wu, who we believe has an excellent grasp on copyright issues (though, we don't always agree with him on telecom regulation).

The first part of the debate discusses whether or not copy protection is necessary. Not surprisingly, Cotton takes the "yes" position. While he comes up with a list of 7 reasons, none are close to convincing. He gets off on the wrong foot (and suggests either that he's willfully misleading or simply ignorant) by suggesting that infringement is no different than theft. It's tough to have a serious discussion on copyright and business models when you stake out that obviously incorrect position (theft involves something going missing, infringement does not -- even if both are illegal). The rest of his argument seems to revolve around two key points: that technology can be effective in stopping unauthorized file sharing and that the industry needs to stop unauthorized file sharing. Both points are wrong. He seems to be confusing two points on that first one. It may be true that copy protection can make it more difficult for an individual or some people to upload an infringing file, but it will never be possible to stop everyone -- and the second a single file is available for others, it no longer matters, because that one file is universally available to be copied. As for the argument that the industry needs to stop unauthorized file sharing, that's only true if the industry cannot come up with business models that embrace unauthorized file sharing and use it to its advantage. As we've already discussed, not only is this possible, it's already happening, and it's helping content creators to recognize business models where they can make more money than before.

Wu's response focuses in on some of that, by noting that it really is a business model issue, and that Cotton seems to ignore that. As Wu says: "digital locks are no substitute for a good business model." However, where Wu could be even stronger is in pointing to evidence, both historical and current, that other business models can actually be much better for content creators. Overall, though, it's a good response, and most of the commenters seem to side with Wu rather than Cotton. It will be interesting to see if Cotton actually responds to Wu's points (hopefully without just falling back on the talking points from his original answer), or if the debate just moves on to the next topic.
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Filed Under: copyright, rick cotton, tim wu


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  1. icon
    Mike (profile), 15 Jan 2008 @ 10:46am

    Re: Way overstated

    Government can and does intervene in civil disputes.

    I didn't mean to imply otherwise, and I apologize if that was read into my statement. However, I do find it problematic that the gov't should be siding with one business model over another. You don't?

    Look at the government states combined cases against the cigarette makers making a legal product. Can you honestly tell me that the states or federal government didn't pick sides in that private civil matter?

    That's not a private dispute, that's a public safety issue.

    And by the by in Mike's quote above did you mean "petitioned" instead of "positioned"?

    Yes, I did.


    The problem with your private parties theory is that in reality all of the downloaders are a group and really not a private party in the standard legal thinking and this does lend some credence to petitioning the government for help in enforcing the laws on the books.


    But that's not what they're doing. They're asking the gov't to change the laws to allow the FBI to act as Hollywood's private enforcement agency. That's quite a bit different than what you claim.

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