ArtsWatch: Tech-Friendly Firsts For FCC, FTC

Federal agencies take steps to help incubate innovative technology solutions

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 Federal Communications Commission broke new ground on Nov. 8 by hosting an Open Developer Day at its Washington, D.C., headquarters. Participants, including representatives drawn from government, the private sector and the general public, were tasked with contributing innovative ways to make FCC data more accessible, and were also encouraged to brainstorm development of an information clearinghouse for computer users with disabilities, pursuing a mandate from the recently passed Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. FCC Managing Director Steven VanRoekel said, "The long-term success of these methods depends on agencies' ability to cultivate an active community. I think this event shows us that we've made a great start...." Cultivating an active developer community is standard for many high-tech companies and the Yahoo Developer Network was represented at the event, but this is a bold step for a federal agency and has the potential to produce significant results.

On Nov. 4 the Federal Trade Commission announced its first-ever appointment of a chief technologist, Princeton University professor Dr. Edward W. Felten. Felten is familiar to many in the music industry as the founding director of Princeton's Center for Information Technology Policy. Electronic Frontier Foundation hailed the move for its former board member, recounted some of the highlights of Felten's debunking of music industry efforts to secure digital content, and said, "With Felten on board, the FTC is uniquely positioned to deal with...myriad issues...in ways that protect consumer privacy without hampering innovation." Felten first began consulting for the agency in August and will go on academic leave when he starts full time in January. "CITP is all about clarifying complex technology policy issues and helping policymakers better understand the choices they are making," said Felten. "I'm looking forward to putting this into practice in government — and then coming back to Princeton with a deeper knowledge of how policy is really made."

The European Commission and European Parliament hosted a joint summit on Nov. 11 on the open Internet and net neutrality. EC VP and Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes said, "The net neutrality debate attracts great interest all around the world, as the open character of the Internet is a value almost universally recognized. This debate started several years ago in the United States, where no clear solution has been identified yet and discussions are still very passionate." The summit was held shortly after the conclusion of Europe's public consultation on the subject, in which a consensus of 318 stakeholders expressed the importance of preserving the open Internet. While acknowledging the need to monitor developments and possibly intervene, Kroes believes competition in Europe is strong enough that there is no need for new regulations at present. She implied the United States has a different situation because of "monopolistic gatekeepers." A formal report is anticipated by the end of 2010 with expanded detail on component topics, such as how service providers can transparently describe their network management practices and how to determine whether consumers can easily switch between different providers.

Nov. 5 was the deadline to submit specific details to the U.S. Trade Representative regarding notorious markets that exemplify the problems of online and physical content piracy. The International Intellectual Property Alliance, MPAA and RIAA delivered submissions, which will be analyzed by the USTR and used to prepare an upcoming stand-alone report — a new wrinkle in this year's Special 301 process — as a way to call extra attention to these worst offenders and the underlying problem. RIAA Executive VP of International Neil Turkewitz said, "This is an important and new opportunity to shine a spotlight on notorious markets and websites that provide unauthorized access to U.S. content."

Cnet News reported on Nov. 9 that the FBI has opened an inquiry into the denial-of-service attacks that recently victimized the websites of leading antipiracy advocates, including the Copyright Office, MPAA, RIAA and Kiss' Gene Simmons. Postings associated with the attacks claim they are a coordinated protest against copyright being used to censor free speech — a view the victims find ironic since interfering with their websites seems contrary to the principles of free speech.

Now that file-sharing service LimeWire has been shut down as a result of litigation by content owners, pirate developers have created an altered version of its software called LimeWire Pirate Edition. This derivative work no longer relies on the company's computer servers at all and LimeWire has demanded that "all persons using the LimeWire software, name, or trademark in order to upload or download copyrighted works in any manner cease and desist from doing so."

Two British Internet service providers — BT and Talk Talk, who opposed the Digital Economy Bill while it worked its way through Parliament — have been granted a High Court hearing in February to voice their objections to the UK's new anti-infringement regulations. The companies object particularly to the law's requirements for issuing warning notices to online infringers and its escalated penalty of temporary shutdown of customers' service if infringement does not cease. Antipiracy trade group BPI said, "All that the court has done...is to allow BT and Talk Talk's legal challenge to go to a full hearing. We continue to believe that their case is misconceived and will fail."