Recapping the 2013 Policy Symposium
Recapping the 2013 Policy Symposium
Recapping the 2013 Policy Symposium

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    February 26th marked the first Public Knowledge Symposium on Capitol Hill. The event was an opportunity for policy makers to hear from and exchange ideas with experts from many fields including data caps, online video, copyright and first sale.  

    Data Caps:

    The data cap panel began with the question of how online video has become the next big thing for the Internet. John Vezina, Political Director for the Writers Guild of America, threw around the word ‘binge viewer’ when he described the way people watch their favorite shows like House of Cards or the Lizzie Bennett Diaries. He also spoke about how the Internet gives writers an opportunity to reach niche audiences without going through gatekeepers. 

    Jenni Powell, Producer of the Lizzie Bennett Diaries, explained that data caps don’t only hurt consumers of media, but the people that create that content as well. A data cap then turns into a cap on creation. Every week Jenni and her team upload data rich videos for their 250 thousand viewers. She says that if there ever came a day when she went to upload something and her cap stopped her, that would mean somebody’s creativity and hard work would be jilted, and her viewers would have to suffer. Each panelist brought their own view of how a “capped” Internet would keep them from writing, shooting, and streaming in a way that is creative and serves their public. 

    Online Video:

    The opening question during the online video panel concerned the reevaluation of the Satellite Television and Extension and Localism Act (STELA) and if it could be a doorway to questions to reevaluate retransmission consent. Allison Minea, Corporate Counsel for Dish Network, used STELA to explain the history of broadcast licensing as “misguided intervention after misguided intervention that has put us in a place where our rules don’t match up with the technology.” 

    While watching the plenary it was clear that each panelist agreed that the current rules that govern broadcast and cable providers are confusing and unfulfilling. As Rachel Welch noted, “most people don’t know the difference between a broadcast and a cable channel.” It was made clear during the discussion that a transition to a new system would be both trying and long term. The current system was not built with Netflix, Hulu, or the prospect of INTEL’s new video platform in mind. 


    The opening question moderated by our own Gigi Sohn was straight forward, “Why do we need copyright reform in the United States?” 

    Pamela Samuelson, Law Professor at Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, answered by saying that the current copyright system was built with the mindset of the 1950’s. In short, nobody thought that copyright would become so out of hand; to the point that it regulates and plays a role in everything Americans do on the web and in their daily lives. Erik Marin, General Manager at Reddit followed up noting that the Internet couldn’t have been dreamed of when copyright was first enacted. 

    Martin honed in on the point that current copyright law keeps innovation from happening in the future. Startups are worried about DMCA takedowns and statutory damages that cause themselves to be so cautious that the next great idea may not come to fruition. The first half of the panel on copyright revealed that copyright is egregiously out of date. The common theme of the panel was the phrase “we are working in a system that doesn’t work”. 

    Michael McGeary, Co-Founder of Engine Advocacy noted that there is a silver lining in the fight for copyright reform. It is that innovators are finding ways to build unique business models that transcend current copyright law. McGeary said that the first step to starting a serious conversation on copyright reform would be to educate people on the Hill about how new business models are working. His consensus was that Capitol Hill should know that the innovation is happening now and copyright laws that keep a lot of innovators close to their guns. 

    As the panel on copyright reform came to a close, President of Public Knowledge Gigi Sohn asked, “If you were King for a day, what would you do to reform copyright?” The most interesting answer came from Tom Bell, Professor of Law at Chapman University. Bell concluded that he wants to revert back to the way our founding fathers interpreted copyright. Short terms and only dealing with maps, charts, and boats. Bell feels that this could serve as a touchstone for the future of copyright reform efforts.

    The Future of First Sale:

    In short, the first sale panel highlighted the many ways that the first sale doctrine must change to keep up with digital copies and match changing technology. 

    The first part of the discussion revolved around the Kirtsaeng case that was heard in the Supreme Court last October. The panel agreed that the outcome of the case holds heavy implications for the first sale doctrine. These implications could impact a wide variety of people from retailers to nonprofits. For instance, charities like Goodwill rely on donations, both foreign and domestic, to meet consumer needs. If Kirtsaeng were to lose, it could become illegal for people to distribute foreign made work they’ve purchased. Andrew Shore, Executive Director of the Owners’ Rights Initiative, stressed that this situation is exactly what content companies said they wouldn’t do, ‘go after the little guys’, but this is a case of just that. 

    The second half of the panel dealt with the changing landscape of media and how the laws need to change so people can actually own the digital content they pay for.  The first sale doctrine was supposed to help reconcile individuals owning physical property with authors owning intellectual property. However, it has failed to keep up with the digital world and the panel gave examples of how these laws need to change to protect consumers.

    Christina Mulligan, Director of Public Policy Initiatives at the Association of Research Libraries gave real-life examples of what could result from if first sale is not revised and people continue to purchase purely digital content. They noted that when somebody legally owns something, they have the right to give, trade, or sell their property without the risk of infringement. Books, CDs, and DVDs are on a down swing and it’s a matter of time before all of these forms of media are packaged digitally. When they are and a consumer buys one and decides one day they would like to share that piece of content with their friend, how do they do it without breaking the law? 

    Overall, the questions people were left with is a sign that there is a clear need for continued and educated conversations about these issues. These are questions that will hopefully be tackled during our next policy symposium, which will include further discussions about the future of our online world.