Ross and I were supposed to co-author an article for National Review about five years ago (it’s still coming!) making the case for a “war on Hollywood.” But rather than an attention-getting moralistic crusade that ruffled feathers while doing nothing of substance, we wanted to make the case for an aggressive agenda of copyright reform, spectrum reform, tax reform, and other measures designed to break the stranglehold of media conglomerates that have gamed the regulatory process to use federal and state governments to advance their private interests. This would, in theory at least, allow for a more diverse media ecosystem, one that would better meet the needs of families looking for higher-quality content. The bad news is that we’ve been incorrigibly slow, though I’ve certainly written about the subject here and there. The good news, if you can call it that, is that the issue isn’t going away: far from it.
The last Administration embedded notions of copyright in preferential trade agreements (we usually call these “free trade agreements” or FTAs, but they represent departures from the multilateral process and thus effectively constitute PTAs) that were more onerous than anything in domestic law as recently as the Reagan era. This Administration, unfortunately, seems even more solicitous of the interests of what Cory Doctorow calls “Big Content.”
The entertainment industry loves widespread filtering as a “solution” to online copyright infringement — in fact, it has successfully persuaded Congress to push these technologies on institutions of higher-education.
But this “solution” is full of flaws. First, even the “best” automated copyright blocking systems fail to protect fair use. Worse, these techniques are unlikely to make any lasting dent on infringing behavior, but will instead just invite the use of more encryption and private “darknets” (or even just more hand-to-hand sharing of hard drives and burned DVDs). But perhaps the most pernicious effect may be that copyright protection measures can be trojan horses for consumer surveillance. In an age of warrantless wiretapping and national censorship, building more surveillance and inspection technologies into the heart of the Internet is an obviously bad idea. In the words of the Hollywood movie, “if you build it, they will come.”
This is lunacy.