ArtsWatch: Will Internet Engineers Settle For Giving Advice?

Technical Advisory Group could define limits of Net neutrality

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.

On June 9 a confab of high-powered engineers announced a new Net-tech forum called the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group — BITAG or TAG for short. Facilitated by University of Colorado at Boulder Law School Professor Dale Hatfield, formerly the chief of the office of engineering and technology for the Federal Communications Commission , participants in BITAG's early discussions have included representatives from AT&T , Cisco, Comcast, DISH Network, EchoStar, Google, Intel, Level 3 Communications, Microsoft, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon. Consumer advocates Free Press and Public Knowledge swiftly expressed reservations regarding the formation of the group. Although companies broadly support the FCC's Open Internet principles in principle, the agency's National Broadband Plan also leaves room for reasonable network management practices that in practice could provide an end run around Net neutrality restrictions — and the FCC is in a tussle with Congress that could prevent it from exercising any enforcement authority. BITAG can play an important and positive role developing recommendations to inform both the politics and laws surrounding the Internet. It also poses the likelihood that when consensus has formed among its diverse participants, it will be put into practice independently, will be justified by high-flying advocacy language, and will far more gradually determine the future of Internet law.

Disagreements over FCC Chair Julius Genachowski's intention to reclassify Internet transmission as a telecommunications service erupted between members of the House Appropriations Committee during his testimony before its Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government on June 9. Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) threatened to introduce a budget amendment to block the move while other members defended it as an acceptable temporary measure since congressional action is likely to take time. Genachowski's request for 2011 funds includes more than $11 million to hire 75 additional employees with advanced technical skills.

On June 7 the House Judiciary Committee held a field hearing in Los Angeles on the proposed Comcast-NBC Universal merger. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) noted she was surprised and shocked when she recently discovered that U.S. broadcasting and cable networks are largely concentrated in the hands of five corporations.

Efforts to legislate the loudness of television commercials took a major step forward on June 9 as S. 2847, the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, was passed by the Senate Commerce Committee. The bill amends a companion House bill, which passed last December. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said, "Every American has likely experienced the frustration of abrasively loud television commercials jumping out at you.... This practice is designed to intentionally disturb our households to attract attention to the ad, and the American public has had enough."

The RIAA filed a motion for a permanent injunction to close down file-sharing site LimeWire on June 4 and argued the issue at a June 7 hearing. Following up last month's summary judgment ruling on behalf of the recording industry organization, U.S. District Court Judge Kimba Wood gave the site two weeks from the hearing to respond. The RIAA's filing said, "Every day that LimeWire's conduct continues unabated guarantees harm to plaintiffs that money damages cannot and will not compensate."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a friend-of-the-court brief dated June 2 with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, opposing efforts by U.S. Copyright Group (at SaveCinema.org) to sue thousands of consumers accused of downloading infringing copies of The Hurt Locker online. On June 7 plaintiffs filed an additional 10-page list of IP addresses believed to have pirated their movie and said more will be added. The law firm is seeking to represent other independent film producers as well.

In preparation for a U.S. International Trade Commission hearing to be held June 15, the International Intellectual Property Alliance submitted its written testimony on June 3 outlining the many types of copyright infringement occurring in China. The USITC has been tasked with producing a rigorous framework for quantifying the economic impact of this infringement by Nov. 19 — a difficult challenge to meet.

On June 9 Spain's Provincial Court of Madrid upheld a May 2009 decision dismissing an infringement case brought by collecting society Egeda against peer-to-peer file-sharing service Cvcdgo.com. Since the site merely links to infringing files and only profits indirectly from the infringement by running advertisements, the court compared its activities to running a lending library and closed the five-year effort to hold the P2P website accountable.

Canadian legislators proposed revisions to their country's notoriously lax copyright statutes on June 2 with a draft titled Bill C-32. IFPI said, "The publishing of this bill is only the beginning of a process, and some of its provisions must be amended in order to bring Canada in line with its international treaty obligations as well as evolving international norms. As it is, it simply does not go far enough to protect creators and producers in the digital environment." Bill C-32's contents make an effort to comply with international copyright treaties but contain broad exemptions protecting non-commercial infringing activity.