Representatives of "copyright holders" heavily outnumbered freedom advocates, as is typical at this kind of event, but the leadoff speaker, Michael Davis of the Progressive IP Law Association, started the session by talking about how hip-hop sampling would be killed by the Hague Convention if it is ratified in its present form, which has "fair use" provisions nearly as onerous as those contained in the DMCA.
Interestingly, Marilyn Cade of AT&T spoke out against much of the Hague Convention's intent; her company's concern, she said, is keeping global communications and ecommerce free and easy. A representative from Yahoo! was even more negative about this treaty, which would make U.S. authorities responsible for enforcing other countries' copyright and IP laws, and vice versa.
Think about this spectre, which another participant raised: a court in Moscow, Iran or China could decide something posted on a Web site based in the U.S. violated their countries' laws and, as Hague Convention signatories, demand that U.S. authorities force the Web site owner to remove the offending material. This is not a far-fetched idea; remember Yahoo! and the French government's objection to Nazi memorabilia sales?
At the other extreme, the American Society of Media Photographers loves the idea of a treaty that will help its members collect royalties from foreign media that use their images.
Not Just Speaking to the Peanut Gallery
I only counted 36 people in the audience; intellectual property issue discussions never draw mass attention. But the only audience that counted today was the U.S. Hague Convention delegation, and they were here, sitting up front, listening to every panelist's words, asking questions, and generally trying to learn what various constituencies want (and don't want) in the way of intellectual property treaties before they go off to the next negotiating session.
A Nationalized Movie Industry?
Jared Jussim of Sony Pictures talked at length about the "entrepreneurialism" of the movie business and how vigorous international copyright enforcement is needed to keep the movie business healthy. He said, "If we could have the Digital Millenium Copyright Act extended throughout the world, I would be ecstatic about it."
Jussim ranted hard about online freedom-seekers; he dumped on "professors" who "cite each others papers in a big circle" and how they are all "liars." Strong words. But that wasn't enough for the man. He directly stated that if movies or even pieces of them were distributed online or through other means not approved by the movie companies, the entire industry would eventually shut down; that "you would pay a tax" to finance government-produced movies; and that government flunkies would decide what movies got made and what you saw in theaters and on TV. Horrors!
The spectre of a government-controlled film industry obviously is enough to make any right-thinking person want to see all possible copyright protection added to every possible intellectual property treaty.
Faced with this potential evil, it is obvious that the ACLU and all those professors who yammer on about fair use, freedom of speech, constitutionality and similar silliness must be ignored.
The Washington Post showed up. A cameraman from TechTV shot a few moments worth of tape, without sound. One of the local tech newsletters sent a reporter. And me. These were all the "known" journalists I spotted, but others were taking notes, so who can say? Perhaps one of the quiet people in the front row was a secret representative of the Today Show, but somehow I doubt it.
The Hague Convention could make major changes in the way intellectual property and copyright laws are handled on an international scale, but "the public" probably won't hear about any of this -- and won't care if they do -- unless there is some sort of corporate aggression under the Hague Convention that affects as many people as the RIAA's anti-Napster actions. Then you'll see the big-time pundits weigh in. But at this point in the game, they are nowhere to be found.
Enter RMS, Stage Right
Richard M. Stallman, representing the League for Programming Freedom, was scheduled to take part in the afternoon session but he showed up shortly before lunch and was immediately buttonholed by the Washington Post reporter. He spent the lunch break charming a member of the trade delegation, who said she was surprised that she had not heard "strongly" before about any of the intellectual freedom concerns brought up today by Stallman and other panel members. And listen to Stallman she did, with total concentration, while eating a sandwich and drinking a soda on the front lawn of the Library of Congress's Adams Building.
Stallman was not alone in speaking about the rights of intellectual property creators and users. Laurie Racine, of the Red Hat-sponsored Center for the Public Domain, did a turn, as did representatives of the Trial Lawyers of America, a blacksuited young attorney from the MPAA, Jamie Love from the Consumer Project on Technology, people from BMI, ASCAP,AAP, and other "interested parties."
Love brought up a hypothetical situation: Cuba copyrighting the "cuban beat" and demanding 5% royalties from all American music performers who use it -- and under the terms of the proposed Hague treaty, having the legal right to force U.S. officials to help them collect.
But proceedings like this one are basically dominated by lawyers. "What if?" questions get asked and debated. Ties between copyright laws and other cross-border civil and criminal situations get discussed in detail so excruciating that it could make non-smokers want to take up the habit just to have an excuse to slip outside for a few minutes now and then.
Not Just the U.S.
Even if the U.S. delegation to the Hague Convention come down totally on the side of the angels, they will still be just one of many delegations, and other countries may have other ideas. A number of people here today have talked about how, when it comes to copyrights and patents, the U.S. is one of the most restrictive nations around, so American copyright holders probably have more to fear on that front from the rest of the world than the rest of the world has to fear from us.
Where ordinary Americans may lose out is on freedom of speech issues. Many countries have far more restrictive policies on libel and on what citizens may or may not say about touchy subjects like politics or religion, especially if those opinions are published on the Internet.
RMS vs. Sony
Imagine Stallman being accused of "not speaking for the public" on copyright matters by Sony's Jussim -- who also managed to get in a plug for movies being a great entertainment value compared to live theater or professional sports. Imagine Stallman calmly -- aside from a gleam in his eyes -- reminding the poor flak that more money goes to promote movies than to make them, so that more money in the studios' pockets wouldn't necessarily lead to better movies.
This was the first moment of passion in over an hour. Sadly, it only lasted a moment. Then it was back to drone, drone, drone.
"The ISP Community" and "The Content Community" were phrases that got thrown a lot. In the legal sense, we heard, the question of whether "publication" takes place on a server or on the client where it is displayed hasn't been settled yet.
And so on.
Toward the end of the day Jamie Love said, "There hasn't been a single American newspaper article about this treaty, and here you are getting ready to create the Magna Carta of cyberspace."
Love didn't blame the people on the U.S. delegation for working in comparative secret. "I've called reporter after reporter [about this] and their eyes glaze over," he said.
So Slashdot was there. And if you want to read the text of this treaty, it's online here.
And if you are a U.S. citizen who wants to get in touch with the people representing you at the next Hague Convention meeting (in June), three good people to contact are:
Jennifer Lucas at USPTO (email@example.com)
Jeffrey D. Kovar at U.S. Dept. of State (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Maneesha Mithal at the Federal Trade Commission (email@example.com)