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.