The Election, and the Subcommittee on IP and the Internet

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The future of technology may lie in the hands of a pair of Democrats, who are as different as can be.

The senior Democrat on the Subcommittee of IP and the Internet is Howard Berman. Berman is a longtime hollywood DRM pimp. He was behind the horrendous idea that we should let studios hack computers to stop P2P file transfers. Techdirt lists his wide array of anti-consumer initiatives:

Among Berman's proposed or supported laws were the ability for copyright holders to take vigilante action on those they believed were sharing their content allowing them to hack into your computer, a bill to strip away many fair use protections, a bill to let the entertainment industry use the FBI's seal when going after copyright infringers, a bill to give jail time to those caught file sharing (rather than just fines), a proposal to put people in jail for registering a domain with fake info and has been a big supporter of adding a broadcast flag requirement to consumer electronics.

In short, he's a shill for the content giants.

On the other hand, we have Rick Boucher. The enlightened Boucher, hailing from Virginia, is something of an IP savant. Not only did he peg the anti-consumer provisions of the DMCA for what they were, but he seems unphased by the barrage of misinformation and misdirection that is showered on Congresscritters by the entertainment lobbies. We're talking about an industry that has been following Jack Valenti's lead since he compared the VCR to the Boston Strangler. Hyperbole is the order of the day; the only question is whether or not it will be followed by a dessert course of out-and-out deception.

But Boucher isn't merely saavy about Copyright issues, he's also aware of the problems that patents pose. He and Berman co-introduced patent reform legislation. (Keep in mind, Berman is only slavishly devoted to content providers; therefore, while he favors absolutely totalitarian copyright infringement laws, he isn't necessarily an IP nazi in other areas, such as patents).

In any event, Boucher has even written a why we should rewrite the DMCA opinion piece. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a man who knows the difference between a truck, and a series of tubes, even without Senator Ted "Bridge to Nowhere Porkhound" Stevens telling him.

Ironically, I firmly believe that Boucher will actually be good for the content industries, because they don't know what's good for them. Ultimately, DRM fails. Those who want to pirate, will. The industry isn't getting around the analog hole for decades, and even if they did, the digital versions have been cracked even recently. But DRM confuses consumers - if I can't control digital files, what am I buying? Consumers hate DRM. They have tolerated it on things like DVD players because it is completely transparent - and ironically, completely ineffective. But as people start wanting to switch from the iPod to a Zune, or dump Windows for Linux, or who knows what, expect to see growing anger, doubt, and uncertainty (it's almost FUD) over DRM. Non-DRMed products are easier to pirate, yes, but it's like saying that a 1/4lb weight is easier to lift than a 1/2lb weight. They're both trivial. But DRM-laden products discourage honest consumers, not pirates.

But perhaps more importantly than the Copyright regime, Boucher may stem the tide of patent abuse. We are at risk of drowning in patent attorneys and patent litigation, to the detriment of our IT industries. Bill Gates mentions that we're not educating enough IT professionals, but I have to ask: why go into an industry where you're guaranteed to be enslaved to a corporation large enough to employ a bevy of patent attorneys? I've worked as an independant software developer. When you're small, your only hope is to go unnoticed; to be judgement-proof by virtue of being a broke shell company. If someone sues you for infringement, and you don't have hundreds of thousands or more to defend yourself, you lose by default. And since frivolous patents are granted all the time, you either accept whatever terms you are offered, or you go out of business. IT and software deserve better; they're industries where anyone can invent and innovate, but an insane IP policy makes it infeasible. Software patents also drastically slow the pace of development in the industry; they aren't contributions to the useful arts, they are systematic roadblocks thrown up either as defense against patent suits brought by rivals, or as impediments to would-be competitors. Or, for some enterprising firms comprised of nothing but lawyers, just sue people for a living. The problem is, most so-called "inventions" aren't really the creation of something nonobvious and novel, they're just people who patent it first, or with the trickiest new claims. Patents are a quagmire of he-said, she-said for non-technical people, and that includes most judges. Consequently, patent trials can easily devolve into injunctions, expert testimony, and decade-long investigations of a patent's pedigree. Quite simply, an untenable situation.

Boucher has shown he gets it. He's not out to completely overturn the patent regime, but he knows that moving in a direction that makes it harder to file non-innovative patents is good for the economy. If we don't get on board some patent reform, it is quite possible it will help use lose our competitive edge in information sciences to other countries. (Or, will help us fall further behind, depending on your viewpoint)

Here's hoping Berman "finds other interests" and lets Boucher run the show.

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This page contains a single entry by Matt published on November 8, 2006 11:11 PM.

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