November 6, 2002

Davidson Speaks On Copy Rights

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Encouraging a wakeup call among consumers of electronic media, Alan Davidson spoke last night about proposed legislation designed to protect digital copyrights.

The Future

Davidson, associate director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, detailed the “huge debate” currently taking place over the future of digital broadcasting and file sharing before an audience of 50 students in 265 Statler yesterday afternoon.

“A lot of the proposed rules would make it illegal for the average consumer to do many of the things we expect to do today,” Davidson said. These decisions are being made without public oversight or attention and this should be a cause for concern.

Davidson’s lecture, entitled A Nation of Felons: The Political Debate Over Digital Copyright, was presented as part of the University’s Computer Policy and Law lecture series. Citing examples of recently proposed legislation, Davidson explained the effect of new laws on widespread practices such as sharing digital music files and videotaping television programs.

The Washington, D.C. based Center for Democracy and Technology advocates public policies that advance constitutional civil liberties in new computer and communications technologies.

A broadcast flag bill, proposed last month by Rep. William Tauzin (R-LA), would outlaw the use of analog VCR’s to tape digital television broadcasts by 2006, according to Davidson. The legislation would mandate that protected digital television signals be transferred exclusively to devices equipped to uphold copyright protection standards.

“It sounds crazy, but it will be illegal to have your analog VCR connected to your digital television,” he said. “People are not really paying attention to this. It’s not on the cover of USA Today: The End of the VCR.”

Due to the influence of a “powerful, well-funded” lobby fighting on behalf of the entertainment industry, Davidson predicted the eventual passage of the Tauzin Bill. He called for consumers and proponents of technological advancement to rise up and challenge the domination of the influential copyright lobby.

In contrast to the former prevailing belief that a decentralized Internet would eventually overcome national laws, legislators now believe that cyberspace can be regulated and that the behavior of the public can be controlled through technology, according to Davidson.

“The new trend is to regulate the Internet,” he said. “There is a new recognition that change in technology can have a broader impact than passing a law in the U.S. Congress.”

Davidson also outlined “breathtaking and ambitious” legislation proposed by Fritz Hollings (D-SC) designed to equip all digital medial devices with security measures to protect copyrighted materials. Davidson believes the law would raise serious issues regarding scope, consumer use, innovation and privacy.

“We have always had the ability to read and listen anonymously,” he said. “This legislation changes a lot that.”

Davidson also predicted an increasing number of prosecutions and lawsuits under current copyright law.

Tracy Mitrano law ’95, policy advisor for Cornell Information Technologies and director of the Computer Policy and Law program, said that the goal of the series is to provide education in the area of information technology ethics.

“Allan [Davidson] has the perspective of a computer scientist, an attorney, and an advocate on issues that are important for the entire society and are critical for academia,” Mitrano said.

David Bly said the lecture fostered critical discussion of digital copyright issues.

“The lecture went a little more in depth about issues that we usually go over on a rudimentary level,” he said.

Archived article by Jason Leff