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View Full Version : Copyright Issues Grab Spotlight - Washington Post 9/20/00



Chris Gaines
09-23-2000, 11:25 AM
Copyright Issues Grab Spotlight
<br>By Christopher Stern
<br>Washington Post Staff Writer
<br>Wednesday, September 20, 2000; Page G12
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<br>Until three years ago, copyright issues were not something that Doug Lowenstein worried about much in his role as president of the Interactive Digital Software Association, a trade group that represents video game producers.
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<br>But times have changed. Now Lowenstein has several full-time employees who do nothing but scour the Internet looking for copyright infringers. And he pays a law firm to make sure any offending Web sites are quickly shut down and stay shut down.
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<br>"There is no question that the rise of the Internet has forced us to devote additional time and resources on the policy side, as well as the enforcement side of copyright protection," Lowenstein said.
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<br>As entertainment companies search for ways to profit from the Internet, they are finding that more of their time must be spent defending their intellectual property from crafty Internet entrepreneurs who have found ingenious ways to repackage copyrighted material without paying a dime in royalties.
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<br>It is one of the big policy issues of the Internet era: Do current copyright laws work in the digital age, where anybody with a computer can make an endless number of perfect copies of a song or movie and distribute it around the world with a few keystrokes?
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<br>Companies such as Time Warner worry that unless copyright piracy is kept in check through rigorous enforcement and aggressive application of copyright laws, multibillion-dollar catalogues of movies, music and television programming could become worthless.
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<br>The industry is closely watching the high-profile Napster case, in which the biggest music labels in the world have sued the upstart Web site for allowing people to swap copyrighted songs over the Internet without paying for them. The music labels say Napster is facilitating theft. Napster insists it is just helping people legally trade digital copies of songs in the same way they can legally trade CDs in the real world.
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<br>The dispute has the attention of every major entertainment company in the world. The entertainment industry is confident of victory in the Napster case, but if Napster wins, Congress will be stampeded by entertainment lobbyists seeking a change in the law to bolster the position of copyright owners in the courts.
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<br>In the meantime, lobbyists and lawyers are devoting more time to ensuring that current law is enforced and that Congress is kept up to date on the importance of the issue.
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<br>"This past year 30 percent to 40 percent of my time has been spent dealing with Internet and copyright issues," said Robert Okun, the top Washington lobbyist. He said that protecting copyrights and intellectual property has become such a high priority issue that NBC has created a new legal position at its New York headquarters dedicated to the issue.
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<br>Intellectual property has also become a high-growth area for law firms. According to Gerard Waldron of the law firm Covington & Burling, the intellectual property practice at the firm has more than quadrupled in the last five years. It's not just communication companies that are signing up for intellectual property advice, but also banks, chemical companies and sports leagues, according to Waldron.
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<br>"In an information or knowledge economy, intellectual property is the ultimate property right," said Waldron.
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<br>About the time that Napster was emerging as a national icon in the debate over Internet copyright issues, a Web site popped up in Canada called iCraveTV.com that allowed viewers anywhere in the world to watch 17 local TV stations, including four network affiliates from Buffalo.
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<br>The sound was terrible and the picture quality was even worse, but when iCraveTV.com appeared on the Web, a host of lawyers from movie studios, television networks and sports leagues responded by scrambling for a court order to shut the site down.
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<br>ICraveTV.com was effectively put out of business in a few weeks, but it was a pivotal moment for many Washington lobbyists and lawyers who work on the issue. "It was a wake-up call," said Dan Nastel of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
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<br>It was in response to iCraveTV.com that Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti organized the Copyright Assembly, a coalition of more than 30 groups and companies that have a strong economic interest in copyrighted material. Among the members of the Copyright Assembly are the Newspaper Association of America, the Directors Guild of America and every major movie studio, television network and sports league.
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<br>"The people who are [using] the Internet today have an indifferent attitude about copyright," Valenti said.
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<br>In an effort to provide alternative points of view on copyrights, some companies have opened their own Washington offices. Among them is MP3.com, which recently hired former Walt Disney Co. lobbyist Billy Pitts as its full-time Washington representative.
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<br>In effect, Pitts has switched sides on the issue. As Valenti hopes to take advantage of the combined political might of the Copyright Assembly's powerful members, Pitts is trying to build a grass-roots coalition of Internet users through what he calls "a million e-mail march on Washington."
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<br>Pitts, a former member of the Copyright Assembly himself, is trying to present an alternative point of view to Congress. "On the copyright side you tried to seal every exit, make sure there were no leaks, make sure there was no unanticipated misuse of your copyright," said Pitts. Now he argues that point of view represses new technologies and is harmful to consumers.
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<br>David Simon, a Los Angeles-based entrepreneur, agrees that copyright law can stymie new ventures. In March, Simon put up a Web site that allowed Internet users to watch TV shows over the Internet.
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<br>Unlike iCraveTV.com, RecordTV did not offer live television programming. Instead, it allowed users to request that Simon's Web site record a specific television show so that it could be watched via the Internet at a later time. The source of Simon's TV programming was his local cable system in Los Angeles.
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<br>Simon launched the Web site as a demonstration projection in the hope of attracting investors. But after another Web site wrote about RecordTV.com, usage went from 200 visitors a day to more than 1 million in less than two weeks. "It happened so fast," Simon said.
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<br>RecordTV not only showed how easy it is to bootleg copyrighted material on the Internet, it also showed how enthusiastically Internet users would embrace the new idea--even if the experience was vastly inferior to regular television viewing.
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<br>But two weeks after getting up and running, Simon was slapped with a $10 million lawsuit filed by every major Hollywood studio. He closed up shop immediately. He hopes to resume his work, but for now RecordTV.com has two employees: Simon and his lawyer.
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<br>To date, the courts have sided with the owners of copyrighted material and against upstart companies such as Napster and MP3.com.
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<br>For its part, Napster insists that since it is not illegal to swap physical copies of recorded music, it should not be against the law to trade digital versions of songs over the Internet. MP3.com also says it is not breaking the law because it requires users to prove they have purchased their own copy of the music before downloading a copy from the Web site.
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<br>While neither case has come to a final resolution, the Web sites have been on the losing side of several decisions in their respective cases, giving the big entertainment companies a sense of security--at least temporarily.
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<br>"So far," said Valenti, "we are winning."
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<br> 2000 The Washington Post CompanyN