Wednesday, April 17, 2013


This article originally appeared in the 4.18.13 issue of Metroland.

Urgh.  The events in Boston are gonna further wreck your freedom.  Just watch.  Last night I was listening to a special program from WBUR about the bombings, featuring listener call-ins.  The first call was from a guy from Georgia indignantly demanding to know how something like this could happen after the billions of dollars we’re spent since 9-11 on homeland security.   Sure, it’s an utterly moronic question, but you know it’s being echoed everywhere.  Why can’t somebody do something?

            And, of course, being a moronic question, it is destined to be asked in the Halls of Congress.  In times of crisis, even an unpreventable crisis like this appears to be, Congress has to do something under the fiction that we can insure that nothing like this ever, ever happens again.  If Congress doesn’t do something, Congress appears impotent.  If Congress doesn’t do something, anything, the terrorists, whoever the hell they are this time, will have won!

            And, unfortunately, there is a something Congress can do that’s already before it--- CISPA (Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act),  a hideous little law being pushed by House Republicans, those buffoons who are against government, except when it comes to controlling the little guy.  The proposed law would allow any company that collects online data from people, essentially every company you use to get online and every company that you visit online, to be immune from any lawsuits arising from the company’s sharing all of that data with the government.  In other words, those privacy policies you see on every website you visit, that you think protect you?  They’re meaningless!  If your ISP channels all your emails to, say, the FBI, there’s nothing you can do.

            CISPA is ridiculous and overbroad, and it trumps every other law on the books that’s supposed to be protecting your privacy.  As I write this, it’s sailing through the House and in its way to the Senate.  The White House has said it will veto the law unless it contains privacy protections, like limiting the immune shared information to stuff that doesn’t contain individuals’ identities.  But that’s not what the Republicans want.  They want their foot on your neck.  You just know that some pantload Senator is going to get on the floor and declare that he knows for a moral certainty that had CISPA already been the law that the Boston Marathon tragedy would have been averted.  And the Fox News will amplify it.  And then how is Obama gonna veto the very thing that would have saved those precious lives?

            Privacy schmivacy.   You know, if you ain’t doin’ nothin’ wrong you got nothin’ to worry about.  Right?  Time to get your VPN jammin’.

            Moving on.  A couple months ago a young libertarian-leaning House staffer issued a report that said, essentially, that the entire Copyright Act was a piece of crap that was being used to block innovation and creativity and that it should just be thrown out.  The dude got fired a couple days later.  But just a few weeks ago the Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante, marched up to Capitol Hill and pretty much said the same thing.  She told Congress that it was time for the “next great copyright act,” noting that the current laws, created largely in the 20 years leading up to the 1976 Copyright Act, simply don’t address the digital age.

            While I’ve never much trusted the Copyright Office and the Obama Administration regarding IP issues, Pallante’s remarks were really quite revolutionary and on the mark.  Here’s a money quote that alludes to the corporate hijacking of the Copyright Act with pages of impenetrable technocratic nonsense:

Because the dissemination of content is so pervasive to life in the 21st century, the law also should be less technical and more helpful to those who need to navigate it....  my point is, if one needs an army of lawyers to understand the basic precepts of the law, then it is time for a new law.

            Well hello!  She went on to emphasize that the public good is what copyright law is supposed to be about, and that the discussion for the new law had to include not just businesses, but parties representing the public, the ultimate end-users of IP.  She listed some of the things that she felt needed to be done, including dealing with orphan works, reforming the music marketplace, creating fairness in licensing, reevaluating what rights a copyright holder should have or not have, making sense of fair use, and restoring a robust public domain by shortening the automatic term of copyright.

            It’s a nice start.  Given that the last go-round took over 20 years at a time when copyright law was an arcane subject that directly affected very few, it’s gonna be interesting, to say the least, to see how this plays out.

Paul C. Rapp is a local IP lawyer and volunteer firefighter who, like Kenny Loggins, Lou Reed, Paula Cole, Human League, Matisyahu, and Barbara Streisand, believes in love.      


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