Bush Signs Family Entertainment Act into Law

"File-swappers who distribute a single copy of a prerelease movie on the Internet can be imprisoned for up to three years, according to a bill that President Bush signed into law on Wednesday.

"The Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, approved by the House of Representatives last Tuesday, represents the entertainment industry’s latest attempt to thwart rampant piracy on file-swapping networks. "

Declan McCullagh. Bush Signs Law Targeting P2P Pirates. April 27, 2005.

Commentary by K. Matthew Dames, Executive Editor,

I had an interesting conversation yesterday about this legislation with Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor, author, cultural historian and copyright chronicler whose most recent book is The Anarchist in the Library. Siva was in Washington, D.C. yesterday to speak to members of the Law Librarians’ Society of Washington, D.C. The speech, "How Fair and Useful Is Fair Use?," took place in the East Conference Room at the U.S. Supreme Court, mere steps from the courtroom where oral arguments (.pdf) in the MGM v. Grokster peer-to-peer case occurred last month.

First, I’ll provide some background for our conversation. I noted
last week that Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the ranking Republican on the
Senate’s Judiciary Committee, introduced The Family Entertainment Act
in the Senate. (The Judiciary Committee considers and passes
intellectual property legislation.) The law’s primary beneficiary is a
Utah company named ClearPlay, which makes technology that censors sex, violence, and other "objectionable" material from DVDs.

What I omitted from that note was my opinion on this issue, which
I’ll state now: The Family Entertainment Act sanctions a specific
business model (home-based production of derivative works), and
validates the existence of a corporate constituent whose home state,
not coincidentally, is the same as one of the legislation’s primary
sponsors. Further, I see the Act as another in a series of events where
public policy — expressed through the legislative process in this case
— benefits specific corporate interests rather than the public at
large. What I find interesting is that this legislation benefits a
technology and the company that has developed the technology. Usually,
most intellectual property legislation benefits entertainment companies
that develop content.

Interestingly, Siva has a different take on this topic, one that suggests the Act does, in fact, serve the public’s interest to the distinct detriment of industrial interests.

His thought is that the Act’s passage is a Congressional sanction
that gives consumers some level of control over their private uses of
technology. To detail further, Siva thinks that by legally sanctioning
ClearPlay’s technology, families now have some autonomy in how they use
their personal media spaces. Here is why this is important: by
returning to consumers some control over their own personal media
spaces, he says, the Act also diminishes the influence that the
entertainment/content industry has over how digital media is used
inside the home.

By diminishing this influence, Siva concludes, the entertainment
industry’s ability to set a copyright agenda for non-infringing uses
that are not specifically accounted for in the Copyright Act also
diminishes, however slightly.

I remain wary about this legislation, since I am always concerned
about the ways in which the lines between private, corporate interests
and public policy interests are continuing to blur. But Siva’s take is
quite interesting.

See also:
Associated Press. Bush Signs DVD ‘Sanitizing’ Bill. April 27, 2005.

National Public Radio. Decency Software Pits Hollywood Against Capitol Hill. Morning Edition. April 27, 2005.

Declan McCullagh. Prison Terms on Tap for ‘Prerelease’ Pirates. April 19, 2005.

Written by sesomedia

04/28/2005 at 08:55

Posted in Web & Online

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