April 18, 2024

Kerry and Copyright

Tim Wu, guest-blogging on Larry Lessig’s site, asks hypothetically whether President Kerry would veto the Induce Act. Tim, quoting some vague pro-technology language from Kerry’s website, suggests that Kerry might veto the Act.

This is wishful thinking. The fact is that the record of Kerry, and the Democrats in general, on the copyright/innovation issue is not good at all. Consider, for instance, the 2002 Senate hearing on the Hollings CBDTPA, in which Intel’s Les Vadasz faced a phalanx of entertainment-industry witnesses. According to Declan McCullagh’s Wired News story, the committee’s Democrats, including Kerry, spoke in favor of the dangerous CBDTPA bill, while Republicans were more skeptical. (I attended the hearing, and my memory is consistent with Declan’s story.)

Many people here in the copyright/innovation blogosphere are enthusiastic Democrats. It’s only natural to project your good policy ideas onto the politicians you support, and skilled politicians helpfully provide boilerplate policy language to help supporters do this.

If you’re on the pro-innovation side of the copyright wars, though, most of your natural allies on these issues are Republicans. Your arguments – against regulation, and in favor of market solutions rather than government picking winners – will resonate better on the political right than on the left. And so far, Republicans (with the exception of Orrin Hatch) have been better on these issues than Democrats. True, neither party has been good on this issue; but the Republicans have not been nearly as bad, and they seem more amenable to persuasion.

So if you’re pro-innovation, and you want to go beyond complaining to actually change things in Washington, then my advice is to take a conservative to lunch, and explain why they should support your side of the copyright battles.

As to John Kerry, by all means encourage him to change his mind and make a clear statement of principle on this issue. But don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.


  1. PS: A market arranged to avoid free competition is theoretically against conservatives’ principles. But it often in the interests of their friends.

  2. A view from the other side of the pond: In Europe it is the left who are most resistant to ‘intellectual property inflation’, most probably because of their suspicion of the establishment, of private monopoly and of big business. The right tend to follow the establishment and accept the ‘intellectual property’ framing of the issue. [There are exceptions, tho’: notably Finnish conservatives.]

    There is more resistance here in the EU than the US to IP inflation (look at the software patents vote last September). And this was mostly led by the radical and green left.

    Of course one difference with the US is that apart from Ralph Nader there is no “left” as would be understood in Europe: most Democratic politicians would probably feel right at home among Europe’s mainstream centre-right. I’m no hard-leftie, but when it comes to issues like this I can see that the lack of a ‘critical’ political force can be a real hindrance.

  3. Badnarik Campaign: Now is the Time. Speak up on Intellectual Property Law!

    The Badnarik campaign is reporting on their blog today that their site’s

  4. Those arguments may resonate with Republicans but they seem like silly and rare arguments. I can only recall hearing them when a pro-innovation person was self-consciously trying to pretend to be a Republican (in the same way liberals try to convince conservatives they should really be against defense spending because it means more taxation and bigger government). Even libertarians, who are probably most likely to be genuinely responsive to such things, have a large copyright-is-property segment.

    The true answer is that Democrats are probably bad on this issue for funding reasons (as jwalden notes) and because they don’t know much about the technology. If you can get thru to them, I expect they’d be at least an equally sympathetic ear, if not more so.

    Certainly it’s a hit with the rank-and-file Democrats. Which begs the real question: Would Howard Dean have vetoed the INDUCE Act?

    [Flameproof: There is one man on the ballot who would almost certainly veto the INDUCE Act: Ralph Nader.]

  5. Ed,

    Thanks for this follow-up. My question was less, will Kerry veto the Induce Act, and rather, can the Kerry administration be convinced to see where the democrats should be on this issue? But I agree its not going to be easy.


  6. Ravi Nanavati says

    While I’ll agree that Kerry’s positions on intellectual property issues are troubling, I don’t think it is fair to say that one party is better on them than the other – they’re both terrible. Recall that the DMCA passed both houses of Congress on a voice vote (meaning less than 20% of each chamber objected, I think). And it is not like the Bush administration has been a friend in the copyfight: it was their trade negotiators are the ones that have made DMCA-like provisions part of recent trade agreements (like the ones with Australia and Singapore).

    Granted, Republicans were more skeptical at hearings for the CBDTPA (though I wonder if that had something to do with a prominent Democrat proposing it). On ther other hand, Democrats outnumber Republican as sponsors of Rick Boucher’s DMCRA 2-1 (though with only 24 sponsors there’s still a long way to go).

    I think both parties have strengths and weaknesses on these issues. Democrats tend to be more skeptical of big business and concerned about centralization and monopolies. But, on the other hand, they tend to be funded by the entertainment and media interests interested in strong intellecutal property control.

    Arguments about free markets and innovation might resonate with Republicans, but they also tend to defer to business interests and to accept and “intellectual property” framing of the issue – concluding that more and stronger property rights are always the answer.

    The truth is I think we need to work hard to developing arguments for and cultivating allies on *both* sides of the aisle. We need all the support we can get.

  7. If you look at Kerry’s top contributing industries, you’ll find Music/Movies/TV and Printing/Publishing in the #9 and #10 positions, whereas they appear nowhere on the list of Bush’s top 20 contributing industries for the 2004 campaign, so I suspect you’re right that Kerry is less likely to support copyright reform. However, removing regulations isn’t always benign either, and decreasing regulation of media ownership has permitted a small number of media corporations who are all strongly in favor of increased control of copyrighted materials to greatly increase their size and power. We seem to be getting the worse of both worlds: less regulation where laws are helpful, and more regulation where the laws are harmful.

  8. Generally, republicans represent people in districts that don’t violate IP laws as often (middle of the country). While most large cities and places where the most illegal filesharing occurs (northeast, california) are blue states. The lobbies we, as pro-innovation supporters, are in disagreement with, such as the MPAA and RIAA, concentrate on the polititcians from areas their “evidence” suggests is losing them the most money, the afformentioned blue states. Politicians are a fickle breed and often vote based on poll numbers and the information handed to them without doing a lot of personal investigation (after all, they passed the patriot act without even reading it). Since I don’t remember any polls about INDUCE being conducted by Gallup, and the only ones feeding these politicians information are the lobbies, this is how they must base their vote. I’d suggest it’s more important to convince these politicians of the dangers of acts like INDUCE. It’s essential to get our voices heard; politicians think more when its obvious their constituents are opinionated. The best way to do this is through our representatives, who, as Prof. Felten points out are often democrats. If a poll was taken that showed 65% of people in the blue states were against INDUCE I’m sure the politicians would come around. This would be more effective than convincing their republican counterparts to vote against them. A constituent’s voice is infinitely more powerful to a representative than a complaint from someone from another state. It just so happens, for most of us, this means lobbying the other side to democrats.

  9. Both links in this story point to the same wired article. The first one should point here: http://www.lessig.org/blog/archives/002062.shtml