The Digital Freedom Campaign was launched today, and I was delighted to join my colleagues from the Consumer Electronics Association, the Media Access Project, Computer and Communications Industry Association and The Electronic Frontier Foundation at a press conference to talk about the campaign. My statement is here.
The purpose of the campaign is to build grassroots support for copyright laws that protect, rather than limit, creativity, innovation, free speech and competition. While attempts by the content industry to strengthen copyright further through increased penalties, government technology mandates and lawsuits is nothing new, the past several months have seen perhaps the greatest onslaught of legislation and litigation since Public Knowledge was founded five years ago. You can read about those initiatives here, here and here. These efforts have been particularly irksome because the industry won the Grokster case at the Supreme Court (and just recently at the district court), has been successful in its lawsuits against individuals, got Congress to pass the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, which gives the industry special protection for “pre-release” works, and has entered into agreements with ISPs to pass on warning notices to individuals they believe to be engaged in illegal file sharing. So to paraphrase the immortal words of Howard Beale – We're as mad as hell and we are not going to take it any more.
The plain fact of the matter is that as more and more Americans use digital technologies to create their own content, which they post on You Tube, MySpace, iTunes and other online forums, a copyright law that was last substantially revised before the VCR even existed (1976) makes no sense at all. Should user-generated content that includes somebody humming their favorite tune or shows a TV show in the background be the subject to permission and/or a prohibitive licensing fee? Should an online campaign criticizing a candidate's environmental practices be subject to a trademark dilution lawsuit? Thus, the Digital Freedom Campaign will not only seek to stop efforts at more draconian copyright measures, it will seek to return balance to the law – a result intended by the founders of this nation when it gave Congress permission in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution to protect creative works and inventions.
Predictably, the MPAA put out a press release calling our efforts a “false alarm” and talking about the cost of “piracy” to the economy. Of course, this campaign doesn't condone the efforts of commercial thieves, and Public Knowledge, for one, is happy to see strong enforcement of copyright laws for those who seek to profit from creative efforts of artists and publishers. What the campaign seeks to protect are lawful activities – but for the MPAA and its allies, there is no difference.
So I urge everyone who supports Public Knowledge, our industry and non-profit colleagues and the work we do to join the Digital Freedom Campaign. It is time we take matters into our own hands and tell the content industry to stop limiting what we can and cannot do lawfully with the technology and digital media that we buy.