osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

The IP Mafia strikes again, and provides a valuable civics lesson

The intelectual property (IP) mafia must have read my post last week about how the tech insudtry misses its regular spanking by the intellectual property folks. They also must have figured that while we were all busy with Net Neutrality, they could pull a fast one over us with yet another shakedown.

Today's little ray of sunshine comes from Sen. Diane Feinstien While this makes sense (since folks from California are naturally solicitous to entertainment industry as a major employer), the real eyebrow-raiser is the bill's co-sponsor -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. The bill, called the PERFORM Act of 2006, proposes to change the law to conform with the opinion of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) that digital broadcasting by satellite radio (and, I presume, terrestrial radio) is the equivalent of music downloads rather than broadcasting when hooked to a digital recording device, unless the digital recording device has "appropriate" copy controls to ensure that any recording is for non-commercial use. (The folks at Public Knowledge have put up a summary here.)

The bill is primarily directed at the moment at satellite radio, which sells a combination receiver and digital recorder (although I beleive the satellite guys have incorproated some kinds of DRM in their equipment in the usual futile effort to appease the Copyright Barons). At the moment, of course, selling a combined digital receiver/recorder is perfectly legal, and is rather indistinguishable (legally) from combination radio/tape players covered under the Audio Home Recording Act. Which is why the RIAA resorts to the current strategem of pushing to change the law to increase the cost of the mechanical license unless XM and Sirius (and presumably terrestrial digital broadcasters later on) insert "broadcast flag"-type copy-controls in their hardware and broadcasts.

As I've written before, the satellite radio guys are quite happy to shaft consumers and potential competitors for their own interest when they can get away with it. But I'm not expecting any corporation to act either nobly or consistently any more than I expect endangered preditor species to feel sympathy for endangered prey species. Companies exist to maximize revenue. Public policy should, IMO, seek to channel that feature into things that improve social utility and deter conduct injurious to the public interest.

The only thing that makes this worthy of more than a raised eyebrow and the usual warning that if we as citizens leave it to the special interests, we get the government we deserve, is the partners in this little dance. Can anyone think of anyone less likely to team on a bill than Feinstien and Frist? According to Feinstien's fans, Frist is the very embodiment of all that is wrong with the Republican party -- social conservatives that cater to oil barons and other special interests while imposing white, male patriarchal Christian privilege upon us all. While, in the Mega-Churches Frist attends when back home, Feinstien is a corrupt Jezebel who hates America, hates the values of the "culture of life," wants to destroy the institution of marraige, and seeks to promote Hollywood's atheist agenda. But for a little PAC money, we can see the two of them dancing together on pay-per-view C-Span while the RIAA provides the music. (I mean, couldn't she at least have co-sponsored with Spectre rather than Frist? For appearance sake?)

No, I'm no naive stranger to DC and its "strange bedfellow" ways. I recognize that if you are the Senator from California, you need to respond to the needs of the RIAA and the enterntainment industry (at least until the Tech industry finally learns how to lobby better). And I recognize the fact that getting Bill Frist as co-sponsor (and when someone wants to run for President, he becomes more amenable to the wishes of folks with money from Godless Hollywood) goes a long way to guaranteeing passage. But am I the only progressive who finds this kind of "bi-partisanship" unsettling at a time when Democrats hope to run against the "culture of corruption" and how the GOP has made its money doing favors for the oil cartel?

Bluntly, I find this a prime example of what distinguishes liberals from progressives (of either party). If we seek an explanation of why increasing numbers of folks who want to build a better world get fed up with both political parties and refuse to vote, I hold this up as "Exhibit A". Being on one side or another of social issues is relatively painless. That is why the civic debate has become dominated by such issues.

In any event, I hope folks at home will explain to their elected representatives that if Democrats want to run against the "culture of corruption" that "favors special interests," (and if Republicans wish to fight such charges), they need to stop doing favors for any special interest. "Big Media" is no better or worse a master than "Big Oil." Unless elected representatives stand by their principles accross the board, it's just "meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

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