Piracy in the Plan

The FCC officially unveiled the National Broadband Plan this morning — in common speak, it’s a roadmap for where the Internet is going in the next decade — and Hollywood’s focus has been on what it says about protecting its copyright.

The answer: A paragraph.

Here’s the passage: “The Internet is revolutionizing the production and distribution of creative works, lowering barriers to entry and enabling far broader and faster access to culture and ideas than previously possible. But the Internet’s value as a platform for content—and the ability of online content to drive increased adoption and use of broadband—depends on creators’ incentives to create and disseminate their works online, which are in turn at least partly dependent on copyright protection. The Internet must be a safe, trusted platform for the lawful distribution of content. At the same time, copyright protection efforts must not stifle innovation; overburden lawful uses of copyrighted works; or compromise consumers’ privacy rights.”

The industry has been seeking tough guidelines for fighting piracy, while consumer groups have warned of giving media congloms and Internet providers too much leeway to fight it.

In fact, the plan identifies ways to ease copyright restrictions in certain instances, to unlock content tied up in rights issues. The plan calls on Congress to take legislative action that would encourage copyright holders to grant digital rights of use for educational purposes. As an example, it pointed to the PBS documentary “Eyes on the Prize,” which has, until only very recently, been tied up in rights issues. Another example cited were teachers who were prevented from using Beatles lyrics to promote literacy because it would cost them $3,000 in a licensing fee. Instead, the plan proposes a new copyright notice in which copyright owners can authorize certain educational uses while reserving their other rights.

The plan also calls on Congress to amend the Copyright Act to provide exemptions to public broadcasting orgs for online distribution of public media. The intent is to create a national digital archive, that relies on historical news footage and could be accessed by students and scholars. The plan states, “Congress should consider amending the Copyright Act to enable public and broadcast media to more easily contribute their archival content to a digital national archive. In addition to clearing these upstream rights for submission into a digital national archive, the amendment to the Copyright Act should grant the public reasonable noncommercial downstream usage rights to all materials deposited into the archive.”

The authors of the plan also pointed to the FCC’s “net neutrality” proposals, currently under consideration, which are intended to keep the Internet from becoming something akin to the tiered system of cable television. But it also spells out that its protections are for “lawful content.”

Other highlights: The plan calls for a “national framework” for taxing digital goods and services, intended to remove uncertainties in the marketplace from Internet entrepreneurs who now face a patchwork of state and local levies.

Mixing a message of patriotism and competitiveness, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, appearing at the commission hearing on Tuesday morning, called the plan “the great infrastructure challenge of our generation.”

“If we don’t act we put at risk the promise of America as a land of opportunity,” he said.

The House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet will hold a hearing on the plan on March 25. All five FCC commissioners have been invited.

Update: The MPAA’s interim CEO Bob Pisano released this statement on the plan:

“The MPAA joins the FCC in saluting the transformative power of the Internet to inform, educate and entertain Americans in bold new ways. We applaud the FCC for issuing a plan designed to connect all Americans to high-speed Internet, while recognizing that copyrighted content must be protected online if broadband is to thrive as an engine of growth and innovation in the 21st Century.”

President Obama issued this statement:

“America today is on the verge of a broadband-driven Internet era that will unleash innovation, create new jobs and industries, provide consumers with new powerful sources of information, enhance American safety and security, and connect communities in ways that strengthen our democracy.  Just as past generations of Americans met the great infrastructure challenges of the day, such as building the Transcontinental railroad and the Interstate highways, so too must we harness the potential of the Internet.  Expanding broadband across the nation will build a foundation of sustained economic growth and the widely shared prosperity we all seek.”

The complete plan is here.



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