This is really just a post telling you to go read this story from the Marketplace Tech Report this morning and a similar one on the Marketplace Morning Report. They’re about the new online piracy bill working its way through the House Judiciary Committee. The bill, and its sister bill in the Senate, aim to dramatically increase the penalties for online piracy. The only problem is how vaguely worded it is. Almost anything on the web could be ensnared by the bill as it is written. This is the perennial problem with legislating about technology. The more narrowly crafted and targeted the bill, the more likely it is to be Constitutional, but it is also more likely to be out of date before it gets off the President’s desk. A broadly worded law, like the ECPA, could stand up to many more years of utility, but also runs the risk of being struck down like most of the Communications Decency Act.
There’s really not much I need to add to the Marketplace stories, other than a complaint that all we seem to be doing these days is ceding ground to content creators but getting little in return. Don’t get me wrong, they should be paid for their work, period. But the public domain is really starting to become an anachronism, like snail mail and boomboxes–they’re still around, but no one uses them. I feel that if we’re going to see significantly stricter rules on copyright infringement, they need to also close the (mostly) open-ended rules on when content enters the public domain and becomes free for everyone to use. That, like the patent system, is the tradeoff that we should expect for granting exclusive rights to IP and we need to make it clear that we won’t give it up.