The 110th Congress was sworn in today, and Democrats in the House began action on their agenda for the first 100 hours of the new term. Core issues like ethics reform, the minimum wage, health care and implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission are just some of the priorities of this agenda, meaning technology and related copyright and patent issues will have to wait.
But not for long. Rumours are already flying that Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is ready to reintroduce the PERFORM Act, one of the bills from the 109th Congress that would use the music licensing process to punish music services that do not implement technological protection measures. But the silver lining in this cloud is that Senator Feinstein seems to be on her own, without the support of the critically important Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
The good news is that everything else we have heard so far from relevant Hill staffers and others indicate that the new Congress has the right priorities on the issues PK cares about, for example:
Net Neutrality: With supporters of net neutrality heading up the relevant committees and subcommittees in both the House and Senate (Reps. John Dingell and Ed Markey, and Senator Daniel Inouye), there will certainly be another attempt to legislate an open Internet. The big question for us is what else will be added to that legislation. We're hoping it focuses on broadband access and competition, and not on technology mandates.
Patent Reform: Ensuring higher quality patents and preventing litigation abuses are said to be one of the top, if not the top intellectual property priority for the Senate Judiciary Committee and House IP Subcommittee. Last Congress, Reps. Boucher and Berman introduced the Patents Depend On Quality Act, which would have, among other things, provided for third party submission of prior art and post-grant review of patents. Public Knowledge would welcome the opportunity to support Subcommittee Chairman Berman and Mr. Boucher, our most reliable friend, on this important initiative.
Orphan Works: Last year's legislative effort to ensure that those who use copyrighted works after an unsuccessful but diligent search for an owner not be subject to the full panoply of damages under copyright law fell short. One of the stumbling blocks to passage was the opposition of photographers, visual artists, textile and furniture manufacturers. PK has recommended competing visual registries as a way for people to find the owners of these works more readily. As this is one of the rare copyright issues for which there is general agreement between the copyright reform community and the content industry, leaders of the relevant committees consider passage of orphan works legislation as win-win.
Of course, you can count on the content industries proposing new and old technology mandates and even stronger punishments for copyright infringement. But we're working to ensure that the new Congress moves towards a new copyright paradigm rather than fortifying the old paradigm and with it, old business models.