April 23, 2014

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Senate Commerce Testimony: Post-Mortem

Today I testified at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing. The issue under discussion was whether (or how) the government should require the inclusion of DRM (anti-copying) technology in digital TV equipment. Here is my written testimony.

If you haven’t been to such a hearing, you might be surprised at some of what happens. For one thing, unlike the hearings you see on TV, some of the Senators are absent, and some come and go during the hearing. (A Senator is on multiple committees, and various hearings are going on simultaneously, along with other business.)

You would probably be disappointed as well at the quality of the debate. It’s not that debate doesn’t occur; and it’s not that the issues at hand aren’t important. But much time is wasted on posturing that is irrelevant to the nominal topic of the hearing and seems designed only to show that one side is purer of heart than the other. An example was the repeated references to porn on P2P networks. This had no connection to the hearing’s topic, and nobody even bothered to connect it to the topic. And none of the witnesses had any connection with P2P technology.

At the witness table, I was seated next to the one and only Mr. Jack Valenti, whom Senator Brownback laughingly introduced as “the eternal head of the MPAA.” Mr. Valenti was accompanied by a seeming army of helpers who passed him notes at a furious pace. He struck his usual apocalyptic tone – his testimony was titled “The Perils of Movie Piracy – and its dark effects on consumers, the million people who work in the movie industry, and the nation’s economy: Some facts, worries, and a look at the uncharted future”. The first paragraph is a real doozy:

No nation can lay claim to greatness or longevity unless it constructs a rostrum from which springs a “moral imperative” which guides the daily conduct of its citizens. Within the core of that code of conduct is a simple declaration that to take something that does not belong to you not only is wrong, but it is a clear violation of the moral imperative, which is fastened deep in all religions.

And this at a hearing about TV tuner regulation!

Mr. Valenti, characteristically, hit the P2P porn meme the hardest, even, in a surreal moment, inviting the Senators’ staffers to go download some porn from Kazaa and see for themselves how vile it is. As a parent, I had to chuckle on hearing the American movie industry complain about the distribution of inappropriate sexual content to kids. But then again the whole room seemed at times to be an irony-free zone.

Comments

  1. Ernest Miller says:

    Are you sure that Senator Brownback didn’t introduce Valenti as the “INFERNAL head of the MPAA”?

    Thanks for fighting the good fight!

  2. John Anderson says:

    Golly, there’s p0rn on P2P? How about that!?!

    Hey, there’s also p0rn in magazines! Let’s outlaw periodicals!

    P0rnagraphic graffiti on buildings? Outlaw buildings!

    During the “BetaMax” hearings, Jack V. admitted he had a VCR and used it to record stuff. I wonder if he uses any P2P?

  3. VR says:

    What about regular television? The sexual content and body humor you see today even at 8 pm would have been unbelievable in the ’60s and would have gotten a movie banned a decade or so earlier. Actually, it is an interesting example of cultural shift.

    Interesting testimony and background on the process. Sad to say, most Senators are probably bored (all those meetings . . .) and most have minimal technical knowledge. Many of the speakers are trying to get in sound bites, not real information. A very good argument for LESS regulation.

  4. Steve @ PMStyle says:

    I noticed from the testimony that Dr. Felten’s piracy example didn’t address one specific scenario which is controversial today. I’m curious why he didn’t address it.

    Dr. Felten’s Example: A 3 hour ATSC TV movie requires 26 gigabyte requires $50 in HD space and cannot be easily copied over fast household broadband connections. Since $50 is more than the cost of 2 or 3 DVDs of the content.

    My example: A 3 hour ATSC TV movie requires 26 gigabytes and $50 in temporary HD space. Once recorded, the movie can be written to 2 DVD-RW blanks costing less than $1 each. Once written, the $50 in HD space can be re-used for other content and additional copies of the movie can be made for less than $2 in materials.