One of America's leading authorities on technology and telecom policy, Motley is a writer, television and radio commentator, political and policy strategist, lecturer, debater, activist, and policy advisor to The Heartland Institute.
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The Constitution is an extraordinary document. Life for most humans for most of human history has been poor, nasty, brutish and short. The Constitution acknowledged this past (and present) – and transformed our future.
One of the many, many amazing things the document did was properly define the role between man (master) and government (servant). In part by codifying man’s natural rights. These rights are inherently ours – and government can not infringe upon them.
As we’ve oft reminded, Ben Franklin was asked as he departed the Constitutional Convention “Well, Doctor, what have we got – a Republic or a Monarchy?” To which Franklin responded “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
We haven’t kept it. Because government keeps serially, ever-more-blatantly exceeding its limits – and in the process eviscerating our rights. And the officials We the People elect either do nothing to stop it – or are complicit in it.
Our representatives have yet another opportunity to step up and stop yet another government encroachment. Under prospective assault this time – the Constitution’s Copyright Clause:
“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
We have a right to property protection. This includes intellectual property – as identified just above. But nothing is safe anymore.
The agency about to undermine our intellectual property rights right this go round is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC is considering a bizarre, back-to-the-future regulation – which will prop up the dying set-top-box market so as to allow cronies like Google to have free access to copyrighted television content.
In case you were wondering: The set-top-box is the thing that sits in close proximity to your television – that descrambles the encoded signal your cable company sends, translating it into viewable shows and movies. Why is the signal scrambled? Because it contains tons and tons of copyrighted material – the content created by ABC, NBC, CBS and the dozens of other creators of the programming we all enjoy.
Protecting that content is a huge deal for its creators – which is why they demand such stringent protections in the contracts they negotiate with cable companies. Thus the set-top-box isn’t some sort of add-on item – it is the final component in cable television’s secure-delivery-system.
The FCC is ignoring all of this Reality. And are about to force cable companies to descramble the content which they are obligated by contract to protect – and for which they pay most handsomely.
And then give that content for free to the likes of Google. Who will then sell their set-top-boxes (just what we need, another remote control) – thanks to content for which they do not have to pay. Google and their ilk will sell advertising – thanks to content for which they do not have to pay. All the while collecting all of our data – thanks to content for which they do not have to pay. And then selling said data every which way they can.
Again, Google and their ilk make all of this omni-directional money – thanks to content for which they do not have to pay.And for which they have never signed any sort of contract promising to protect. Since they are not on the hook to do so – guess how much time, money and effort they will exert doing so?
This is more than a mite disconcerting for the content’s creators.
Showbiz Groups Say FCC Set-Top Box Proposal Could Have Harmful Impact: “The groups are filing comments with the (FCC) on Friday expressing concerns that the move would have an adverse impact on content creators’ ability to protect copyright and be compensated for their work, according to a joint announcement.”
Allowing companies like Google to have free access to content – with no promise made by them to protect it – would absolutely affect the creation of future content. As in – there won’t be any more creation of content. Why expend all the time, money and effort to create it – if the government is mandating you give it away?
You know who else is standing up for Reality? Congress – in bipartisan fashion. (I’ll pause while you get over your shock.…) A letter signed by Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte and Michigan Democrat John Conyers reads in part:
“As members of the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees our nation’s copyright laws, we recognize the harm to the American economy caused by the theft of copyrighted works….Creators are legitimately worried about the prospect that future set top boxes, or their functional equivalents, could…lead to the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted works.”
Given the soon-to-be-government-mandated perverse-market-incentives for the likes of Google – these are very legitimate concerns.
We are very pleased Congressman Goodlatte recognizes the import of intellectual property and its protection. We hope he continues to stand against the FCC’s efforts to undermine it – up to and including using Congress’ power of the purse to curtail the Commission’s budget should it in insist on pushing forward with these anti-Reality regulations.
And we hope Congressman Goodlatte will apply his dedication to Constitutional intellectual property protection equally to all things – and once and for all shelve his anti-patent Innovation Act.
Intellectual property – is intellectual property. All of it is protected by the Constitution. None of it should be undermined by those who swear an oath to uphold and defend said Constitution.
It ain’t complicated.