Judiciary Committee Examines Copyright Law

As the Internet has enabled instant access to a wide range of digital content, consumer demand has become increasingly complex. Innovation in digital content has flourished under the protection of copyright laws, but many content creators are suffering from the explosion of digital piracy. On Tuesday the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing titled “The Rise of Innovative Business Models: Content Delivery Methods in the Digital Age” to discuss the needs of the digital marketplace.

John McCoskey, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of the Motion Picture Association of America, praised the Copyright Act for creating an environment in which innovation flourishes. He discussed the innovative new ways consumers can access content, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, AppleTV, and Flixster. He emphasized that one of the best ways to prevent piracy is to give consumers a wide range of legal options for getting digital content.

Sebastian Holst is Chief Strategy Officer at PreEmptive Solutions and a developer of yoga apps. Holst was a victim of piracy when someone took the content and branding of his app and made it available for free. Developers lose money from sales and advertising when pirates steal their content. When the pirated copies don’t perform well, the ratings of the developer plummet. Even a pirated copy of a free app can harm developers because they are faced with data usage and hosting costs. However, Holst said further legislation regarding copyright is unnecessary; what he thinks the intellectual property marketplace needs is better enforcement and marketplace solutions.

Paul Misener, Vice President of Global Public Policy at Amazon, perceives certain problems regarding digital content in terms of distribution.   First, there are no blanket licenses or centralized sources of information on songwriters or music publishers. Consequently, digital music distributors have to individually track down each and every copyright owner whose work they wish to use. Misener suggested that the process for obtaining music licenses ought to be streamlined in order to overcome this burden. From Digital Liberty's perspective, opening up royalty rates for music to the free market rather then a government controlled system would address Misner's concerns. Another aspect of copyright that he found problematic was what he deemed “exorbitant” statutory damages for distributors who infringe on copyrighted works. Such damages, he claimed, create a chilling effect which discourages distributors from providing innovative ways for consumers to enjoy copyrighted work. He proposed a system in which statutory damages would be limited for defendants who acted with a “good faith belief” that they were using copyrighted works in a fair, non-infringing manner or when they faced a novel question of law.  However, there are safe harbor defenses and notice and take down claims can be challenged.  Depending on the definition of "good faith" this is already covered under current law.

David Sohn, Director of the Project on Copyright & Technology at Center for Democracy & Technology, spoke about the evolving demands of consumers in the Internet age. They want access to digital content on demand in a portable fashion, and they also create their own digital content. Sohn said that Congress must be careful to protect the safe harbor provision, the Sony doctrine, and fair use. Section 512 of the DMCA gives online service providers that meet certain standards protection from monetary liability if their systems are used for copyright infringement by others.  Fair use, found in Section 107 of the Copyright Act, allows for a wide range of use of copyrighted materials, which contributes to free expression by allowing activities such as quoting, remixing and parodying. In order to discourage piracy, Sohn believes copyright owners must find ways to give consumers a broad array of choices at reasonable prices.

Congress has passed copyright legislation that protects content creators, but it must be adequately enforced. Content creators have created numerous ways for consumers to watch and listen to products via most nay method they wish.  If consumers are unaware of these options they only need to do a little bit of searching.  The website http://www.wheretowatch.org/  is a one stop hub for locating all of the legal downloading and streaming services for video content.  As the industry moves to provide consumers with a broad range of legal choices, piracy will diminish and the market will thrive.