ArtsWatch: Metadata Finds Its Voice — Literally

Congress requires media devices to say what's on the menu and read captions

GRAMMY.com
Philip Merrill

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ GRAMMY.com and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 cleared both the Senate and the House of Representatives late last month and was presented to President Barack Obama on Sept. 30 to be signed into law. Over the next few years video devices will have mandates to be visually impaired capable — a feature other consumers are likely to use as well. The Federal Communications Commission will be involved in working out many of the details, which are supposed to be complex enough to map the many new ways that media is now available, providing audio-capable user interfaces and options for hearing descriptive captions and various metadata read aloud. The legislation also mandates features to assist the hearing impaired and will provide $10 million annually to assist those both deaf and blind. Paul Scroeder, VP, programs and policy group, American Foundation for the Blind said, "Once enacted, this legislation will ensure that the 25 million Americans with vision loss, and the millions more with other disabilities, can fully take part in the digital era. It will improve job opportunities, education opportunities, and more."

The Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, S. 2847, was passed by the Senate on Sept. 29. The legislation began in the House early last year and was amended in the Senate to incorporate specifications recommended by technical body the Advanced Television Systems Committee, and now returns to the House. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), a sponsor of the initial House bill said, "I introduced the original version of the CALM Act two and a half years ago with one goal in mind: to give the control of sound back to the consumer, where it belongs. I'm thrilled that today we're just one step away from sending this commonsense consumer bill to the president for his signature."

Last week ArtsWatch covered S. 3804, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, and this week — as expected — opposing voices have stepped forward to be counted. Consumer activists Public Knowledge posted a list while encouraging public involvement, and Electronic Frontier Foundation posted an impressive warning letter from 87 Internet engineers. Other opposed groups include the Center for Democracy and Technology, Consumer Electronics Association and several leading library organizations that routinely advocate on behalf of fair use. EFF declared victory when the bill failed to move out of committee, postponing action until after Congress' recess for November's elections. Meanwhile, it seems proposals to weaken provisions have already begun to circulate while opponents ask why the Senate Judiciary Committee did not plan to take the time to hear testimony on the subject. None of the opposing voices propose effective alternative methods to get tougher on Internet piracy but they are reasonably unanimous in claiming that the strategies proposed by S. 3804 would ruin the Internet for the entire world and disgrace the United States.

Another effort to get new legislation out of committee was led by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who tested the water with a short-term proposal to enact something similar to the Google/Verizon Net neutrality compromise. Waxman said, "Our proposal was designed to be an interim measure to protect Net neutrality while Congress considers a permanent solution.... This legislative initiative was predicated on going forward only if we had full bipartisan support in our Committee." Speaking for the Republican side of the aisle, House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) said, "If the majority wants to work on a solution to continue a free and open Internet, let's consider the issue deliberately, rather than punting with a halfway measure two days before the end of Congress." Consumer activists Free Press and Public Knowledge reacted by urging the FCC to go ahead with its proposal to reclassify Internet transmission as a telecommunications service.

On Sept. 23 the FCC unanimously approved a plan for going ahead with using "white space" frequencies that it described as "free[ing] up vacant TV airwaves for 'Super Wi-Fi' technologies." NewsWatch covered The Recording Academy's satisfaction with steps taken to protect wireless microphones from interference. The FCC described its plan as a method for going ahead with its 2008 proposal (described in ArtsWatch as "reinventing the TV spectrum") while building in enough protections for incumbent frequency users so that deployment of actual consumer devices can go operational as early as next year. The Super Wi-Fi aspect has to do with the suitability of television frequencies for certain types of Wi-Fi data transmission, but the commissioners expressed their expectation that the "white space" approach could ultimately be used in higher frequencies as well. The FCC expects to announce an administrator for their plan's geolocation database of incumbent frequency users and promises extensive oversight of new devices and any complaints of broadcast interference when these occur. (See Television Broadcast coverage for more detail.)

The U.S. Supreme Court has requested the RIAA respond to a petition from online teen infringer Whitney Harper, dealing with the issue of whether her infringement was willful or innocent and how that affects calculation of financial penalties. Billboard.biz said, "There is no guarantee the court will decide to review the case, but just the fact that the court is interested in the labels' response is momentous."