Democrats' plan: Net neutrality, copyright rewrite

Congress this year is likely to take up performance rights legislation and Net neutrality, a congressional staffer said Wednesday.

Correction at 8:40 a.m. PST on Thursday: An earlier version of this story misidentified a service called Mystro TV. That service was tested by Time Warner Cable.

WASHINGTON--It may seem as though Congress has completely forgotten about Net neutrality, a topic that has languished in legislative purgatory since mid-2006. But a Democratic aide said Wednesday that it's likely to come back this year, along with potential alterations of digital copyright and patent law.

Aaron Cooper, who serves as counsel to Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in the Senate Judiciary Committee, said his boss is interested pursuing performance rights and Net neutrality legislation, a topic that could implicate copyright issues because of its relationship with file swapping. These subjects will likely arise as top committee issues along with patent reform, which is Leahy's priority, Cooper said.

Net neutrality legislation, which is a judiciary issue, Cooper said, could also impact copyright holders depending on how Internet service providers are allowed to manage their networks.

Cooper said the goal would be to "limit the amount of piracy (without) stepping over the line in having ISPs deciding what is lawful and what is not lawful."

Cooper sat on a panel at the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee's State of the Net Conference here, during which representatives from the entertainment industry and public advocacy groups debated Cablevision's liability in maintaining on its servers recorded programming without paying licensing fees.

Cablevision's proposed service allows consumers to record broadcast TV shows and movies on a digital video recorder that Cablevision maintains on its network.

If the Justice Department and the courts give Cablevision the green light to proceed, it will be "setting a roadmap out for anyone who wants to create a copyright infringing service," said Alec French, vice president for government relations for NBC Universal. He said such companies shouldn't be free from liability simply because they "outsource the 'push the button' service," he said.

Gigi Sohn, the president of public interest group Public Knowledge, said the service is analogous to TiVo and that the dispute characterized the disconnect between copyright law and realities of a digital world.

"Are we really going to say every single temporary copy demands a licensing fee?" she asked. "I think that's insane."

The judiciary committee is also likely to try to modernize statutory licensing laws, Cooper said. Statutory licenses allow copyrighted works to be used without the explicit permission of the owner.

The laws are currently "geared toward an analog world," Cooper said.

All panelists agreed statutory licensing needs to be reformed, but there was disagreement as to whether their problems could be fixed with marketplace solutions.

Webcasters have until February 15 to reach an agreement with the music industry for a statutory license, and Daryl Friedman, vice president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, said they would have to find a marketplace settlement for "a technology that's not monetizing."

Friedman said he thought some in the music industry could support Net neutrality legislation "as long as it doesn't mean piracy is equal to legal commerce."

Technologies like Webcasting often need time to grow before they become profitable, said Michael Petricone, senior vice president for government affairs of the Consumer Electronics Association.

"They will be the future of the industry if they're allowed to thrive," he said. "Let's not cook the golden goose."

 

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