Copyright Office Roundtable. Tale of Two Cities.
After participating in last weeks Copyright Office Roundtable Hearings in Manhattan, where stay down was central to those discussions, I was interested in seeing the speakers for the final sessions at the James R. Browning Courthouse in San Francisco.
Not surprisingly, I discovered a line-up front-loaded with tech loyalists sprinkled with the usual suspects; Google’s Fred von Lohman, Michael Masnick and Corynne McSherry representing the EFF. But the standout had to be Jeff Lyon CTO from Fight for the Future, whose group had recently orchestrated a last minute viral attack on the very organization providing him a seat at this weeks round table.
I also saw from the meeting schedule that Google had managed to spread their assets, i.e. astro-turf partners, across every session on both days to insure they would be “on message” at every session.
Make no mistake. After the pounding Youtube’s been taking and the growing support for a “stay down” type solution for the clearly broken Section 512 and the loophole that provides safe harbor protection for infringers, this is nothing less than an all hands on deck response on Google’s part.
It turns out that the majority of those representing Google’s interests at this hearing aren’t even employees, but rather a group of outside operatives. Google as a high profile, publicly traded company needs to stay above the fray and working the back channels furiously to get what they want. After all, there is a great deal at stake here financially.
Many will argue that Google has not been a good corporate citizen in regard to protecting and honoring copyrighted work and profiting significantly from it. While artists on the other hand have been on the losing end for over fifteen years having no control over who uses their work online and losing billions in earnings every year as a result of it.
Google’s Youtube has earned a reputation as the leading abuser of the safe harbor loophole that many want closed. Then there’s Google’s own reputation as the world’s leading enabler of infringing websites. And the problem has gotten far more complicated as User Generated Content, often created with unlicensed copyrighted material, is exploding in popularity. This free, advertising supported content can be lucrative for creators with millions of followers and enforceable copyright laws are viewed as an obstacle to that success.
So how is Google going to fight back and rally public support against legislation that’s clearly broken and deprives workers of their Constitutional Rights? They’ll use everything they have at their disposal, starting with a small army of lobbyists in Washington. But as we’ve seen in the past with other failed copyright reform, Google will again attempt to use their home turf, the internet, to sway public opinion.
They’ll use groups like Fight for the Future to provoke Youtube’s User Generator Communities into attacking copyright and copyright holders, as they did recently with their attacks on the Copyright Office. In some perverse way they will actually be pitting artists against one another.
This is why Jeff Lyon and the mysteriously financed Fight for the Future are at the roundtable. To talk about the loss of jobs for this burgeoning new industry and how copyright stifles creativity.
Last November, I attended the House Judiciary Committee Listening Tour in Silicon Valley and Los Angeles. Once again a tale of two cities and two very different cultures. This time it was Kit Walsh, Staff Attorney of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, trying to dominate the conversation at Santa Clara College near Palo Alto.
I found myself seated not far from Ms Walsh, who offered commentary on Fair Use at every opportunity she could, expressing her belief that fair use was already compromised by copyright and that artists should have even less control over who uses their work. Perhaps the most telling comment was that Fair Use needed to apply to not just partial use of copyrighted works, but entire works.
Two days later we were at UCLA where the conversation shifted to protecting copyright. The room was filled with creators, some new to the conversation trying to figure out how things had turned out so badly for artists.
Richard N. Gladstein an Academy Award-nominated film producer, whose films include The Bourne Identity, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and most recently The Hateful Eight was incredulous. He wanted to know how people could just steal his movies seemingly without consequence. A few weeks later a pristine DVD screener of the yet to be released Hateful Eight was uploaded onto the pirate network.
Two weeks after the hearings, according to the New York Times: Youtube said that it would pick up the legal costs of a handful of video creators that the company thinks are the targets of unfair takedown demands. It said the creators it chose legally use third-party content under “fair use” provisions carved out for commentary, criticism, news and parody….
The company said it wanted to protect free speech and educate users on fair use. But its announcement is also is aimed at strengthening loyalty with video creators.
One thing we know for sure. What the Fight for the Future did to the Copyright Office to disrupt their comment submission process was a clear shot across the bow. A not so subtle warning that if congress moves forward on amending Section 512 so that it actually does what it was intended to do, protect artists and their work, that the FFTF are fully prepared to make things unpleasant in a very public way. That is unless the DOJ decides to take a closer look at the FFTF’s recent actions against the Copyright Office.
But the defining question of the moment is for artists. How badly do you want to protect your work? Because if you don’t care there are hundreds of thousands of people who want your work for free and they will fight you to keep it that way.
If artists don’t take a stand now, you will lose what may be your last chance to save your careers. It’s that simple.
If you’re serious about your career you can start by signing the petition. It asks congress to amend Section 512 and restore an artist’s right to decide who can use their work.
We will not share your e-mail address, but we will keep you informed, unless you choose otherwise.
We do accept signatures from other countries, because we live in a global community and believe that everyone’s art should be respected and protected.
Photo Credit: William Buckley Jr.