CES Recap 4: World's best copyright panel

While most of the attention at CES goes to the flashy exhibit floor and all the cool stuff that gets introduced every year, there are always a lot of quiet conferences going on in the upstairs meeting rooms. This year, I was pleased to witness one of the best conference panels on copyright policy that you will ever see.

(Coincidentally, today is the one-year anniversary of the day Google and other sites rallied opposition to the overreaching Stop Online Piracy Act. Declan McCullagh, Chief Political Correspondent at CNet, wrote about the anniversary.)

As part of the Innovation Policy Summit, the event was “Beyond SOPA: Creating a Pro-innovation, Pro-artist Copyright Policy”. McCullagh moderated the conversation as superbly as he writes. And what an all-star panel it was:

McCullagh expressed disappointment that the invited corporate rights-holders had declined to participate, which made the discussion one-sided. But it was a great, nuanced examination of the current state of copyright, and how an enlightened system would work better for everyone. Here are a few quotes to give you a taste:

Sohn: I think we have a huge opportunity, in light of what happened (stopping SOPA) a year ago … to push for some affirmative copyright reform. … Make the other side explain why we shouldn’t bring balance back to copyright. … Let’s put it to those that want greater and stronger and longer copyright enforcement and put it to them: Why shouldn’t we have some balance? Why shouldn’t we turn the clock back to the original purpose of copyright? … I think this is the year that we push our own affirmative agenda.

Khanna: (Copyright) is a congressional-created instrument in order to maximize content creation. Which is why we can look at it from a cost-benefit analysis and say, are we actually maximizing content creation? Is there actually an author who says, “Well, I probably am not going to write that book if I only get earnings for my entire life, and then my children get earnings for 50 years. BUT I would write the book if I made money forever and then my children made money for 70 years or 90 years.” Which is the kind of argument you have to make to justify our current copyright system. … Intellectual property is actually different from tangible property, for a variety of reasons. Not the least of which is that the Constitution very clearly says it has to be for a limited period of time, whereas most property you can have forever.

Barlow: There is a big difference between a song and a toaster. Treating songs as though they were no different from toasters is absolutely not the right way to monetize creativity. … It’s simply impractical unless of course you’re a large institution that pirates the creative work of artists and holds that as your property for a century or so while you reap huge profits from it. Copyright at the moment has been serving very well to do that.

I could go on for a very long time about all of the great ideas and optimism for reforming the worst abuses of the current copyright system, but as it turns out, you can experience it for yourself. CES is presenting that session, along with the rest of the Innovation Policy Summit sessions, keynotes, and a lot more, at its CES TV site. Or you can click the embedded video above to watch the panel discussion. For more information on these topics, visit InternetBlueprint.org or the Electronic Freedom Foundation.