Since we last visited the cellphone unlocking question, three bills have been introduced in Congress that address the issue. My sources tell me that forthcoming shortly here on the TLF will be a Ryan Radia patented Radianalysis™ of the bills. While that’s still cooking, though, I wanted to give you my quick impressions.
The bills range from “meh” to crafty.
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Marvin Ammori, a fellow at the New American Foundation and author of the new book On Internet Freedom explains his view of how the First Amendment applies the Internet through the lens of constitutional law and real world case studies.
According to Ammori, Internet freedom is a foundational issue for democracy, equivalent to the right to vote or freedom of speech. In fact, he says, the First Amendment can be used as a design principle for how we think about the challenges we face as Internet technology increasingly becomes a part of our lives.
Ammori’s belief in a positive right to speech—that everyone should have access to the most important speech tools in society and be able to speak with and listen to any other speaker without having to seek permission— translates to a belief that Internet should be made available for everybody, without restrictions aside from those placed on offlinet speech.
Ammori goes on to explain why he thinks SOPA threatened to infringe upon free speech while net neutrality protects it, suggesting that allowing ISPs to control bandwidth usage is tantamount to forcing internet users to become passive consumers of information, rather than creators and content-spreaders.
Last week, Pandora CEO Tim Westergren was at the Heritage Foundation, “trying to rally the conservative troops,” according to Politico. The company is pushing the Internet Radio Fairness Act, which would let government bureaucrats set the rates for the music it uses one way. Arguing for another (more expensive) way on Wednesday, was RIAA president Cary Sherman who, again according to Politico, was “ranting against the Internet Radio Fairness Act and condemning Pandora for its efforts to change the standard royalty rate.”
Essentially, they are negotiating through Congress; each side wanting to use the government to gore the other’s ox. In a new article at Reason.com, I make the case that the principled free market approach would be to get rid of compulsory licenses and allow the two sides to negotiate with each other. As I point out, this is yet another opportunity for the G.O.P. to take on copyright cronyism:
If a federal policy strips owners of their rights to dispose of their property as they see fit, institutes price-fixing by unelected bureaucrats, and in the process picks an industry’s winners and losers, you’d expect Republicans in Congress to be against it. But when it comes to copyright, all bets are off. …
If Republicans really care about copyright as a property right, they should treat it as property and allow copyright holders to decide to whom they will license their music. That would mean prices negotiated in a free market, not fixed by apparatchiks, and an end to politically determined winners and losers.
Read the whole thing here.
In a recent blog post Scott Cleland endorses the Administration’s stance that the DMCA should be reformed to accommodate, as he puts it, “pro-competitive exceptions that consumers who have fully paid for the phone and fulfilled their legal and contractual obligations, of course should be able to use it with other carriers.” As he deftly explains,
In a nutshell, if one has honored one’s legal obligations to others, one should be free to unlock their phone/property because they indeed own the lock and the key. However if one has not honored one’s full-payment and legal obligations to others, one may have the phone in one’s possession, but one does not legally own the key to unlocking all the commercial value in the mobile device. Most everyone understands legally and morally that there is a huge difference between legally acquiring the key to unlock something of value and breaking into property without permission. The core cleave of this cellphone issue is just that simple.
I couldn’t have put it better myself. There is a key distinction to be drawn between two very different conceptions of “cellphone unlocking.”
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I just had a very respectful, reasoned, and, most importantly, informative conversation with Derek Khanna and CTIA on Twitter. It helps clarify a lot about the debate over cellphone unlocking, and I thought I’d share it with you after the jump.
The fact is that carriers today offer a wide range of unlocked devices for sale, so you never have to worry about unlocking or breaking the law. In fact, almost all of the phones Verizon sells are always unlocked. And as far as I can tell, almost all carriers will unlock your phone, once you end your contract, if you just ask. This is all truly great for consumers.
So I don’t understand why carriers should be opposed to an unlocking DMCA exemption. (To be clear, I’m not aware of individual carriers taking positions on the matter, but their trade association did file in the most recent proceeding against the exemption.) It would be better if their customers didn’t have to ask for permission before unlocking a phone that happens to be locked—especially since carriers are willing to give that permission. And if unlocking is no big deal as long as you live up to your contractual obligations, I don’t understand why there should be limits on who can do the unlocking. Here is the exchange: Continue reading →
Conservatives and libertarians believe strongly in property rights and contracts. We also believe that businesses should compete on a level playing field without government tipping the scales for anyone. So, it should be clear that the principled position for conservatives and libertarians is to oppose the DMCA anti-circumvention provisions that arguably prohibit cell phone unlocking.
Indeed it’s no surprise that it is conservatives and libertarians—former RSC staffer Derek Khanna and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R–Utah)—who are leading the charge to reform the laws.
In it’s response to the petition on cell phone unlocking, the White House got it right when it said: “[I]f you have paid for your mobile device, and aren’t bound by a service agreement or other obligation, you should be able to use it on another network.”
Let’s parse that.
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Joe Karaganis, vice president at The American Assembly at Columbia University, discusses the relationship between digital convergence and cultural production in the realm of online piracy.
Karaganis’s work at American Assembly arose from a frustration with the one-sided way in which industry research was framing the discourse around global copyright policy. He shares the results of Copy Culture in the US & Germany, a recent survey he helped conduct that distinguishes between attitudes towards piracy in the two countries. It found that nearly half of adults in the U.S. and Germany participate in a broad, informal “copy culture,” characterized by the copying, sharing, and downloading of music, movies, TV shows, and other digital media. And while citizens support laws against piracy, they don’t support outsized penalties.
Karaganis also discuses the new “six-strike” Copyright Alert System in the U.S., of which he is skeptical. He also talks about the politics of copyright reform and notes that there is a window of opportunity for the Republican Party to take up the issue before demography gives the advantage to the much younger Democratic Party.
In a recent article in National Review, Joe Karaganis of American Assembly notes that copyright law is increasingly out of step with social norms. His polling suggests that it’s only a matter of time before a majority supports a broad copyright reform agenda.
As I’ve noted before, copyright has for too long been a bipartisan issue, but it will soon become a partisan one. The question is, which party will take up the winning copyright reform issue?
How would an Internet politics emerge in the Democratic party? The answer is probably simple: It is impossible in the short term because of the power of Hollywood and inevitable in the long term because of the power of time. Most of the young are already Democrats.
How would an Internet politics emerge in the Republican party? Given the decades of rhetorical entrenchment around property rights and law enforcement, it would probably require the recasting of intellectual-property rights as government monopoly, of SOPA-style bills as crony capitalism, and of Internet enforcement as part of a digital-surveillance state.
Such views in favor of recasting IP rights already have a home on the right, and are supported by congressmen such as Darrell Issa and Jason Chaffetz. Tactical considerations alone could produce Republican-led majorities on these issues, galvanized by the prospect of wounding the Democrats’ Hollywood money base or splitting Silicon Valley libertarians.
Seems to me like the case is strong for a Republican-led movement, but time is of the essence. Will the G.O.P. squander this opportunity?
Want to hear the latest thinking on copyright reform? Come to the 2013 Public Knowledge Policy Forum tomorrow, February 26, at 1 pm, at the US Capitol Visitor Center, where I will discuss and debate the issue with these fellow copyright wonks:
- Erik Martin, General Manager, Reddit
- Pamela Samuelson, professor of law at Berkeley Law, University of California; Faculty Director, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology
- Michael McGeary, Co-Founder, Engine Advocacy
Gigi B. Sohn, President & CEO, Public Knowledge, will moderate.
To catch the full roster, which includes some great panels, come at 10. Registration–and lunch!–is free. Details here.
Can’t make it? Here’s my presentation: PK_(C)_Reform.
After several delays, it looks like the “six-strikes” Copyright Alert System is launching today. Over at Reason.com I write that instead of dismissing it out of hand, those of us skeptical of the current copyright regime should give it a chance:
While the Copyright Alert System is far from perfect, it succeeds in treating illegal file-sharing as an infraction more akin to speeding, and less like grand larceny the way courts and prosecutors do. And the private system has its own set of checks and balances absent from public enforcement: ISPs have a strong incentive to ensure that their customers are not harassed by false positives or overzealous enforcement. (Indeed, the agreement limits the number of notices copyright holders may send in a month.) This is why the temptation to codify such a “six-strike” system in law the way France and other countries have should be resisted.
In the long run, the new system is likely to be ineffective at stopping piracy. Determined pirates will be able to detect and evade monitoring, spoof their IP addresses, or simply switch to other methods of file-sharing not covered by the agreement, like streaming or using locker sites or Usenet. In the short run, however, copyright alerts will attempt to nudge public norms that have increasingly moved toward widespread acceptance of file-sharing. Evidence suggests, though, that it’s probably too late for that too.
Rather than dismiss the new system out of hand, those of us seeking a saner copyright regime should welcome this experiment while keeping a close eye on it. If nothing else, it’s preferable to have content owners make constructive use of their private rights rather than rely on the power of the state.