A look inside the closed-door DMCA meetingsPosted 11:49 EDT on May 17, 2016
I’m Jeff, CTO at Fight for the Future. We recently teamed up with Channel Awesome to launch takedownabuse.org, a web protest to fight the ongoing mass censorship of the Internet due to abusive copyright takedowns under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
Thanks to everyone who helped overwhelm the government with nearly 100,000 public comments, we were able to convince the U.S. Copyright Office (USCO) to give us a seat at the table in their closed-door meetings on DMCA reforms. Mike from Channel Awesome and I traveled to San Francisco, eager to speak on behalf of everyone who took action at takedownabuse.org.
Unfortunately, the hearings appeared to be rigged against the public interest, and unless we step up our game, it’s looking very likely that the USCO will make the DMCA even worse, with major giveaways to the copyright industry that put SOPA-style restrictions on independent content creators.
Here are some of my experiences and thoughts about what we’re up against:
The “roundtable discussions” were closed-door meetings with limited seating that effectively shut the public out from the proceedings. No live streaming was available and very limited open microphone time made it nearly impossible for anyone who wasn’t an invited participant to speak.
Speaking of participants, the hearings were dominated by representatives and lobbyists from the copyright industry. Representatives from other public interest groups like Mozilla and EFF were completely outnumbered by organizations like the RIAA, MPAA, Digimarc and Copyright Alliance. You can see the participant list here, but the end result was the lobbyists were able to skew the discussions in their favor.
The copyright industry wants to eliminate the counter-notice process that people can use to fight DMCA takedown claims. Instead they want a “take down, stay down” system where website owners have to police user-uploaded content and proactively remove any copyrighted material. I argued that this would create an enormous burden for website owners and make it effectively impossible for users to upload copyrighted works in fair-use contexts (such as parody or political commentary).
The only time I saw the stone-faced regulators break from their serious demeanor was when it was the MPAA attorney’s turn to talk. After some some light-hearted joking banter with the regulators, the MPAA attorney suggested new legislation to take down entire websites (aka SOPA) for suspected copyright infringement.
There were repeated attempts by the copyright industry to discredit the nearly 100,000 public comments sent through takedownabuse.org. I sat next to the CEO of Copyright Alliance, who had previously likened us to “zombies.” One of the other participants accused us of engaging in a cyber attack. Both Mike from Channel Awesome and I argued passionately on behalf of everyone who submitted comments, that the Copyright Office needs to take the public input seriously. We are not robots or zombies or hackers! We are real people who are living with an Internet where fair use and free speech is under attack.
And here’s where the good news starts. The MPAA and RIAA wanted to go into these meetings and have a one-sided discussion where they could spread doom-and-gloom about how the Internet is destroying their business models. We made this impossible. They never expected to be facing down 100,000 public comments and the same people who helped kill SOPA. We called the industry to task for their abuse of the DMCA and we’re ready for anything they might throw at us next.
Speaking of that, the U.S. Copyright Office will open up another round of public commenting in the coming weeks. We don’t yet know whether they’ll take our concerns seriously, but we will have a lot more than 24 hours to get our comments in, regardless. Please stay tuned by signing up at www.takedownabuse.org and we’ll be sure to tell you when the next round of comments opens!
CTO, Fight for the Future