16 March 2011

Obama Copyright Proposals Counterproductive

When it comes to intellectual property, the Obama Administration has been captured by special interests and just doesn't get it. An administration white paper on the issue points entirely in the wrong direction.

Simply put, our nation's problem is not that punishments for non-violent offenders violating intellectual property laws are not harsh enough (if prison sentence of up to fifteen years won't encourage someone not to steal intellectual property, a twenty year prison sentence won't either, but the longer sentences will cost taxpayers a great deal of money), nor is our nation's problem the fact that we aren't punishing people who play broadcast radio for their customers.

Apparently the folks in copyright enforcement in the United States government don't realize that broadcast radio stations make their money from selling advertising based on their listenership, including non-paying customers of businesses, not by trying to make broadcast radio listeners pay royalties. Recording companies are getting paid for the people in bars and hair salons and in buses who are listening to their music on the radio, indirectly, through the impact that listenership has on advertising rates. In pay radio cases (like satellite radio), contract law provides a better solution the statutory copyright law enforcement.

When I ask myself, "what is wrong with public policy related to intellectual property in the United States?" I do not answer, "recording studios aren't making enough money from radio broadcasts," or "country music stars aren't making enough money." In my admittedly limited experience, it is the people who don't have recording contracts and aren't getting air play on the radio in the music business who are undercompensated, not the ones whose songs are played a dozen times a day on every radio station in their format.

Likewise, felony prison sentences rather than misdemeanor jail sentences for people who stream video illegally should not be a national priority, and devoting more federal resources to enforcing the legal rights of movie studios and recording companies that have ample resources to enforce their rights with private litigation does not make sense at a time when we are cutting the federal budget and reducing the size of the federal workforce. Allowing government officials to impose copyright law penalties without judicial involvement is also bad policy.

This plan was put together by:

[T]he U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC) [Victoria Espinel] . . . in coordination with many Federal agencies, including the Departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security (DHS), Justice (DOJ), and State, and the U.S. Trade Representative.

Simply put, the President should immediately fire everyone involved in preparing the plan who is a political appointee, and should reassign to new duties all of the senior civil servants involved in crafting it. The lot of them are pushing to shift our nation's laws in the wrong direction.

Excessive intellectual property protection is damaging our economy, and intellectual property penalties are already excessive. Broadening the scope of copyright and making punishments more harsh will not help our economy or create jobs.

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