Byte Rights: Change You Can Back Up?


Whew, that was quite an election, but my hope muscle is hopelessly strained and my change gland is exhausted. So I’m turning to a new pastime: second-guessing the Obama administration’s next moves.

I’m long on questions. Will his new trade representative continue forcing DMCA-like laws on our partners? Will his appointees to the Department of Justice prioritize IP cases? What legislation will he support regarding copyright terms, patent reforms, orphan works, and DMCA reforms?

Will there be a new registrar of copyrights? If there is, do we get to see him or her mud wrestle with the IP Czar and the new Patent and Trademark honcho? Oh, I think so.

Don’t get me started about privacy, open source, net neutrality, etc., because the truth is, Obama doesn’t have a record here, just campaign talk.

Obama stated his DMCA position to CNET this way: “As policymakers, we... ensure that the protections we place on intellectual property... encourage invention without hindering innovation that builds on previous work or unfairly limiting consumers from using the goods they purchase in a way that is fair to creators.”

He has also confirmed that he loves cute puppies and America.

That leaves us reading the goat entrails of American political prognostication: advisors and donors. The donors were the usual suspects. According to, TV, movies, music, and publishing coughed up $12.6 million for Obama and another $21.6 million for other Democrats in Congress. Cha-ching!

But get in line—everyone gave Obama boatloads of money. If you look at who’s had Obama’s ear, there’s Eric Schmidt of Google, Duke professor Arti Rai, Daniel Weitzner of the W3C, and other pinch-yourself, “No way!” good people. Obama’s even a friend of Larry Lessig. Except there’s not much evidence he’ll listen to them either. It’s safe to say his technology advisors didn’t support retroactive telecom immunity for warrantless wiretapping. Neither did Obama—until he voted for it. Lessig was among his vocally disappointed tech supporters.

So IP good guy or bad guy? Probably both. Surely though, considering his brilliantly organized campaign and savvy technology advisors, he has a clue.

Whatever Obama does with our series of tubes, he doesn’t get to plead ignorance.

Quinn Norton writes about copyright for Wired News and other publications. Her work has ranged from legal journalism to the inner life of pirate organizations.

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