Jan. 1, 2003
Copyright extremists are working to control as much information as
possible. Almost every week we see a new example of how they are
thwarting the free flow of information.
The leaders of the copyright lobby are the Hollywood movie
distributors and the major music corporations known as music labels.
The latter don't create any music; they just market and distribute CDs
with music after they acquire control of the copyrights.
The major music labels operate through a lobbying organization
called RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) to maintain
their monopolistic interests and stifle the online distribution of
music. Its five largest members, which sell 85 percent of all CDs,
were found by the Federal Trade Commission in 2000 to have unlawfully
kept the retail prices of CDs high.
The RIAA has pressured colleges into policing the computer
networks used by their students. It has subpoenaed computer network
providers in order to track people listening to music.
The U.S. Naval Academy seized 100 student computers suspected of
containing unauthorized music and threatened the Annapolis midshipmen
with court-martial and expulsion. These fine students are training to
fight a war in behalf of our country, and they should be allowed to
listen to a little music in their spare time.
The copyright extremists argue that essentially all downloaded
music is illegal. They successfully lobbied Congress into extending
copyright terms to life of the composer plus 70 years, and now they
claim that copyright owners can dictate how, where and when people
listen to music.
The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering a challenge to the
constitutionality of the latest copyright extension. Congress has
extended the time period eleven times in the past 40 years.
All authority for copyright law comes from the U.S. Constitution,
which states that the purpose of copyright protection is "to promote
the progress of science and useful arts" and that copyright protection
is granted only "for limited times."
The RIAA tried to put small radio station webcasters out of
business while secretly giving National Public Radio affiliates a
sweetheart deal not available to other radio stations. Only last-
minute intervention by outgoing Senator Jesse Helms gave small radio
stations the legislative right to play music while paying reasonable
A teenager is on trial in Norway for figuring out a novel way to
play DVD movie discs on his personal computer. He should be commended
for his ingenuity, not punished.
Adobe (a U.S. computer software company) persuaded U.S. law
enforcement to throw a visiting Russian scholar in jail after he
revealed some shortcomings in an Adobe e-book product at a public
conference in this country. He was eventually released on condition
that he testify against his own company.
The company has just been acquitted in a jury trial. Adobe could
not find any example of anyone using the Russian software improperly.
Major retailers are now using copyright law to try to stop
websites from posting advance information about sales. It's
understandable that retailers want to keep it secret that they might be
cutting prices after a holiday, but that is not the purpose of
Microsoft now uses its Windows license agreement to try to limit
criticism by its customers. It says, "You may not disclose the results
of any benchmark test of the .NET framework component of the OS
Components to any third party without Microsoft's prior written
approval. ... All rights not expressly granted are reserved by
The CEO of Turner Broadcasting says that television viewers are
guilty of "stealing" if they skip the commercials. She says, "Your
contract with the network when you get the show is you're going to
watch the spots."
Eight Hollywood studios have filed suit against local retailers
who buy their videos and DVDs and then delete the nudity, violence and
foul language for the benefit and at the expense of their customers.
Hollywood doesn't lose any sales from this practice; Hollywood is just
determined to force viewers to watch the lurid sex and violence.
Copyright extremists are committing all this mischief under
current law. Yet, the music labels and Hollywood argue that current
laws are not strong enough, and they are lobbying for an assortment of
new anti-consumer legislation.
One proposal would allow them to vandalize computer networks that
they believe might be transmitting unauthorized content. Another
proposed bill would force computer equipment makers to rig their
computers so buyers can only see and hear what is authorized, and
another proposal would give copyrights to privacy-invading databases.
The purpose of copyright law is to provide incentives and
protection to authors to create and publish original works, not give
corporations the power to control the flow of information. We should
not permit copyright extremists to exploit current laws for that goal,
and we should reject their demands that Congress give them even broader
power to control and license information.
Phyllis Schlafly column 1-01-03