Shame on Jack Valenti for characterizing the movie industry's legal attacks on the Internet as being good for America. So far, the industry has attempted to stop the distribution of software that enables users to play their legally purchased DVDs on their personal computers, links to the software, and a virtual VCR. And there's no reason to believe that the industry's vicious attacks are close to being over.
This battle is not about whether copyright law will survive into the new century. Of course it will survive. This battle is also not about whether artists should be compensated for sharing their works. Of course artists should be compensated. Rather, this battle is about making room for new models for doing business, for new ways of thinking.
For artists, the Internet means control. Control over how their works get distributed, control over how they are compensated, and control over the future uses of their works. Right now, when a recording artist signs a contract with a major studio, she gives up her copyright in her own work in order to get her work heard or viewed. This model is no longer necessary. Artists can arrange their own distribution networks-or distribute their works themselves. They are no longer forced to give up their ownership rights in order to be promoted.
No wonder why the MPAA and RIAA are so concerned about the Internet. The old models, which gave the studios all the control, aren't necessary any more. But rather than redefining themselves and coming up with creative ways of ensuring their place in this digital world, they've mounted an all-out legal attack against anyone advancing new models.
Who is harmed by the industry's attacks? For one, the artists, whose works are not being legitimately distributed online by the people who are paid to promote them. The fear, uncertainty, and doubt caused by years of litigation causes consumers to lose as well. And if the industry wins, society loses, because we've allowed our freedoms to be eroded even further, to protect the interests of large corporations over the interests of the people who benefit most from artists' creations.
Shari Steele is Executive Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties group.
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