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The Copyright Legacy of 2013?

Not surprising for the beginning of a new Congress, last week the Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus (10 years old this year) was looking for new members via a Dear Colleague letter from Reps. Bob Goodlatte and Adam Schiff. Unlike some caucuses which essentially define who can join, or rather who cannot, this one seems like an easy choice for everyone to join.

According to Rep. Adam Smith.

The caucus will also continue to encourage inter-industry coordination to reduce the financial incentives for online piracy by encouraging responsible actors in that space—include payment processors, advertising networks, and search engines—to cut off funding for sites dedicated to piracy.

So, here is a caucus made up of those who want to stop international pirates from stealing American innovation. That seems wholesome and without objection. Yet that notion, and broad support of it, is where the SOPA/PIPA debates began and then rapidly veered over a cliff.

I have no intention of re-litigating who was at fault, asking too much, giving too little, etc. in those debates. Rather I want to point out that it was this same all-American position of stopping international thieves from stealing that actually attracted much support, but when the stakeholders got down to legislative language everything fell apart. Some see that debate and the legislative crater as the legacy of copyright in 2012, but this, of course, is 2013.

And last week the Copyright Alert System (CAS) began operating and once again we have a demonstration of what can be done when interested parties work together to solve a problem.

The system is designed to be an educational approach to dissuading the casual or unknowing copyright thief from thieving. Its intent, according to a blog post from Jill Lesser, Executive Director of the center for Copyright Information, is to help all of those involved in the copyright ecosystem, from consumers to creators to gain "a better understanding of the choices available and the rights and responsibilities that come with using digital content, thereby helping to drive investment in content creation and innovative services that offer exciting ways to enjoy music, video and all digital content," and that "educates consumers about copyright and P2P networks, encourages the use of legal alternatives, and safeguards customer privacy."

The current ISP participants in the system are AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Cablevision. These ISPs have begun a system of notices, sent by content providers but forwarded by the ISPs, to the ISP's customers if those customers are alleged to have engaged in P2P copyright infringement. The content owners are charged with monitoring the Internet to spot illegal downloads of their property and raise the need for the notices. These notices, or alerts, are all about education—alerting the recipient that someone has used their account for illegal downloading, and to help them understand the laws, terms of service and copyright in general. This system should be particularly useful given the very high percentage of copyright violations that occur because of ignorance of the law or as a lark. The likelihood is that few are as aware of what is right and wrong in the copyright world as anyone who might read this blog, but once told that in fact it is not appropriate to sneak into their neighbors house and steal a wallet, they very likely will cease doing so.

But the CAS is not the only additional positive copyright story this year. As the Wall Street Journal reported,

The music industry this month reported its first increase in revenues since 1999, when illegal digital downloads contributed to a steep decline in sales of CDs and other physical recordings. More than half of the revenue in music sales in the U.S. now comes from digital sales. Apple's iTunes made buying individual songs easy, and new subscription-based services such as Spotify and Rhapsody have generated some 20 million paying subscribers. Similarly, video services like Netflix make it easy to buy access to movies and television shows.

And the Washington Post has reported  that

Not only have free or low-priced streaming services given music lovers easy access to their favorite tunes, the NPD Group found in a separate study that broader access to music is also driving fewer people to download songs illegally. These services have gained some industry support because they allow consumers to get the music they want while still supporting artists, record labels and others in the industry. In its annual music study, the analysis group found that consumers are sharing less illegal music across the board. Not only is the volume of illegally downloaded music files over file-sharing networks down 26 percent compared to the previous year, so is the number of people who burn and rip CDs, swap music files on hard drives and download music from digital lockers.

The NPD Group said that a crackdown on sharing sites and questions about their safety, combined with the rise of easy, legitimate music streaming has fueled the decline. Nearly 20 percent of users, the group said, have stopped using these sites because they’ve been shut down or because of issues with spyware and viruses.

Technology is once again solving problems and opening up new opportunities for consumers, making the spreading of copyright protected works easier and broader—technology working hand in hand with copyright as part of the innovation ecosystem.

So in this new year some hopeful new approaches are gaining prominence. Perhaps these non-harsh, cooperative, multi-stakeholder, business model driven solutions will be the legacy of 2013.

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