Practice, Just Practice

Lobbying can be hard work. – Ed

I posted the following on the front page a few days ago:

A Slow Start There’s a Reuters article out there which makes a puny 3,500 comments sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee and some more free faxes sound like the Voice of the People. Not.

It’s a start, and I suppose a little practice, but that’s it. The Hollings bill was primarily grandstanding and wasn’t going anywhere, anyhow.

The key action was the Senate Judiciary Committee requiring bimonthly reports on the progress of talks between the content providers and the tech companies. That hasn’t changed at all.

If the tech people don’t start seriously working with the content people to come up with a solution, in a year or two, the Senators on this committee will take action, and then it will be serious.

Going to go into a little more detail on that today, but first . . . .

The mail I’ve been getting on this is about 50-50. Half of it basically says, “Thank God somebody has the guts to stand up for what is right,” and the other half basically says, “Shut up, you bribed idiot.”

Neither response was any big surprise.

The one surprise I’ve had are a significant number of letters that essentially say, “How dare you not kiss our asses and congratulate us for being so wonderful and performing such wonderful feats?”

Uhhh, because neither you nor your actions were?

Sorry, guys. If this were a subject I were 110% in agreement with, I would still have said exactly the same thing. It’s not puny because I disagree with it; it’s puny because it’s puny.

3,500 emails? Let me put it this way. 500 emails to just little old me at this little old website is a lot, but it happens. Just seven times that from the millions who show an interest in the subject to the U.S. Senate, isn’t much.

80,000 faxes? At first glance, that might look more impressive, but just about all those faxes came from one lobbying organization that offered anybody who gave them his or her email address to take their note (or the model note prepared for the lazy) and fax three copies of it for them to their representative and two Senators.

In short, the organization did most of the work.

When constituent staffs get that kind of mailing, they largely discount it. The 3,500 emails probably had more effect than the 80,000 faxes.

Congressional offices give different kinds of correspondence different weight. Essentially, the more effort it takes, the more weight it is given. A handwritten personally composed letter written long-before crunch-time carries far more weight than some email with canned language sent in response to some organization’s call.

Sheer mass can help at crunch-time, too, but “sheer mass” is more along the lines of a million than tens of thousands.

Keep Your Eye On The Ball

If you are serious about these issues, you have to be committed, and you have to pay attention to what’s going on. Of course, this requires effort. You don’t have to make this your life’s work, but this takes more than five minutes a year.

Sorry guys, but if you don’t take this seriously, no one is going to take you seriously, either.

Here’s some of the things you can do:

Get on the mailing list of those lobbying on your side: The two I’m most aware of are the Electronic Frontier Foundation (which has been around a while) and DigitalConsumer (which just started). Get on their mailing list so you can hear about events a little bit ahead of time.

Participate in Activities If one of these organizations tells you to write, write. Write, and I mean write, letters to your representatives, and not just once, but periodically (not every day or week, but once every few months). Let them know who you are, but not by your creative spelling and punctuation. You have to do better than “i tHeEnK mP3s R KEwL.” If this is an area where you’re a little shaky, write a draft letter and let one of your teachers look at it first.

Send Money. Doing this isn’t free. The more money such groups have, the more they can do. If you have more time than money, it may be possible for you to volunteer to do some things for the organization locally. EFF has internships available, you might want to look into that.

Push for Reasonable Alternatives As I’ve mentioned before, this is a big problem for “the other side” in this argument, including the lobbying groups.

Both sides have at least somewhat reasonable and legitimate points. Neither side wants to admit the other side has them.

However, the content providers have convinced those who matter that there is a problem, and they have a solution to that problem. You may not like the solution, but so what? The most effective way is oppose a solution is not by calling it names. As I’ve said before, you can’t stop something with nothing. You stop it with something else. If you don’t like the solution on the table, come up with another one.

For instance, take a look at the public comments sent to the Judiciary Committee. You have tons of people huffing and puffing like hell about
infringements of their property rights, but not a word about the property rights of the content producers. Hint: Calling the content producers evil corporations that deserve no rights isn’t an answer to that question.

It’s one thing to say that a particular bill is bad, but it’s unrealistic to say that no law could possibly be good. (Hint: This isn’t a make-or-break issue for America, either.) This is opposing something with nothing.

There is a problem here, and the answer to that is not “No, there isn’t, and even if there were, those evil SOBs deserve it.” That’s not a realistic position, whether thirty-five hundred or thirty five million people say it.

A more realistic approach might be “these content providers need protection, but they (especially the music folks) also need to be regulated a lot more than they are now. In other words, “You want this, you have to do that.”

It might be enlightening to get an idea where some of the key legislators are coming from. Take a look at the member statements to get a feel for what these folks are thinking. In general, what they’re thinking is that they’ll have to do something, and whatever
that something is will have to balance the interests of both producers and consumers. As Senator Maria Caldwell put it, “The question to me is not whether there should be copy protection, there must be.
The real question is how protection standards should come about . . . .”

OK, that comes from the Senator from Microsoft, errr Washington. However, the friendliest comments came from Senator Orin Hatch, and he’s hardly a warez puppy on the subject:

While philosophically we agree that the market, with its business and technical expertise, ought to try to solve these issues, I think there is a useful role for Congress, too, in reaching or implementing creator- and consumer-friendly agreements in at least three ways. First, we can help set deadlines and push for agreement where there may be deadlocks that ultimately hurt both artists and consumers; second, we can help set balanced objectives and priorities; and, third, we can codify consensus policies or minimum standards. . . .

I also believe it is necessary for Congress to help ensure that consumer expectations will be more fully respected than they might otherwise be in private agreement. For example, I would like to be certain that as new controls are placed on digital content, that consumers are allowed to make legitimate personal copies as they have done before, and use those copies as they have been accustomed to doing. Music fans want to take their music with them in the car, on the beach, to a party. Movie and sports fans want to watch on their big screens, not just on their computer monitors.

Now, let me state clearly, as we discuss consumer rights and expectations, we all should not forget that consumers will have nothing to enjoy if there was not the incentive for artists and creators to develop entertainment content and share it with us. And, moreover, as the HDTV market has demonstrated, without digital content, there will not be sales of digital electronic devices. As with many things, this is a balancing act, but if there is one thing Congress does regularly, it is balance interests. Consumers want rich content. To get the creators of that rich content to share it in emerging interactive digital systems, they must be assured that destructive misuse will not undermine their businesses. On the other hand, consumers also want to use and enjoy that content with the advanced ease, superior quality, and enhanced enjoyment that the new digital systems allow.

We can all learn from the lessons of the Napster case. This has been a cautionary tale to those who would leave the issues to the law of the jungle and protracted litigation . . . [and] that case may suggest that some involvement by Congress is necessary to ensure that technology and intellectual property work together for consumers and creators.

Finally, we must remember that the Internet is international. As Ranking Member of the International Trade Subcommittee on the Finance Committee, I know too well that intellectual property is our number one export, and that we need to do all we can to ensure that our trading position remains strong and that our trading partners work with us in using digital networks as avenues for legitimate trade. We must continue to ensure that foreign countries will provide adequate and effective protection and that their laws are not eroded as they face new challenges posed by new technologies.

“Go away” is not an option in the minds of these people, but that is the only option being offered by the vast majority on the other side of the content producers.

Even for Senator Hatch, if push comes to shove and technically it is impossible to come up with a form of copy protection which also allows for a little personal copying, I have no doubt which one he’ll pick.

Nobody wants the government to decide this unless private industry doesn’t, can’t or won’t decide on something. These folks would much rather private industry come up with the solutions, and they’ll pass whatever laws are necessary to implement it.

If you join a lobbying group, you should push them to come up with a reasonable alternative to whatever the content providers come up with (and no, DigitalConsumer’s suggested “Consumer Technology Bill of Rights” is NOT a reasonable alternative. As they are now, they would make copy protection impossible.

Because one day, if push comes to shove, and Congress knows it has to do something, and the choice is between what the movie and music folks want or nothing; they’ll choose the first.

The next article will contain some helpful clues to help construct a reasonable alternative.

Email Ed

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