July 27, 2002

Commentary: In pursuit of Mr. Smith

Author: JT Smith

- By Mikael Pawlo -
We need to send Mr.
Smith to Washington, D.C
. Mr. Smith is in his early 30s,
clean-shaven, wearing a suit with a white shirt and discrete tie. He
polishes his shoes every morning, when reading the Brooks Brothers'
autumn catalogue. And he is a hardcore Linux user.
I loved the story of the tech
activists protesting anti-copying
in Washington, D.C. In a round-table
discussion on digital content and rights management (DRM) hosted by
the U.S. Department of Commerce, the New
Yorkers for Fair use
participated as audience members and spoke up
on the possible implications of DRM. This is a nice story, and Jay
Sulzberger tells me that the New Yorkers for Fair Use will have a seat on the panel in future discussions. However, this illustrates a problem with the political process. Citizens are rarely consulted outside of
elections. Professional, well-funded lobbyists often set or influence
the agenda in Washington, D.C. While this may be good for corporations
that can afford the lobbyists, it may pose severe troubles for users
and smaller corporations or independent developers.

The current copyright battle is a complicated one, where the
intellectual property protection for computer programs tends to tilt
toward patent protection. The Free Software Foundation chooses not to
consider and discuss some alternatives to the current legislation. I
think The Free Software Foundation could add a lot of experience and
thoughts to such a discourse. Richard M. Stallman, however, seems not
interested in pushing the discussion of copyright further in Congress.
Earlier this year, Stallman
that "since Congress shows little inclination to ask me
what to do -- I can't, alas, offer the sort of campaign contributions
that a Microsoft or an Enron can provide -- there's no practical need for
me to think about how to advise them on this question today."

Meanwhile, U.S. and European authorities and work on the development of
software patents without much opposition to them. The
Eurolinux Alliance
does what it can, but we certainly could use
more fire-power and we need to address regulators in Washington, D.C.

When Lawrence
was in
early this summer, he told me that the EU needs to give
the United States a good example of how to reframe the copyright debate. I am
sorry, Larry, but everyone in Europe is looking at the United States now. We are
reading your
for crying out loud! U.S. regulators are setting the IP and
Internet regulation agenda, without the 200 years of IP history
established in Europe. What some Americans might refer to as Europe's independent and more sophisticated political culture is
the Wind
Done Gone
, without Alice Randall's wit. I am not as much a
pessimist as Lessig. If Lessig was a character in Winnie the Pooh, he
would definitely
be Eeyore
. I do not believe that the public has lost the
copyright battle to the media dinosaurs, but if we do nothing, we will
loose. I can appreciate Lessig's observation that certain large media
corporations are conducting a regulatory power grab that may stifle
innovation. However, there is no need to watch this happening as
sitting ducks.

The Free Software Foundation should fund a lobbyist. No one else will
represent the Free Software users and developers in Washington on
a day-to-day basis. We may get a little help from Intel and Apple, when
they fight for their own technical freedom from the big five record
companies and Disney and their allies from Hollywood. Still, someone must
explain implications of DRM, the effect of public procurement policies
that mandate proprietary software, dangers of lemon laws for software
and so forth. Software is politics. We need to learn from the New
Yorkers for Fair Use. There is a future for ideas.

If you are reading this, Mr. Smith, I suggest you call Mr. Stallman right
away. He could use your polished grin.

Mikael Pawlo is an associate of the Swedish law firm Advokatfirman
Lindahl. On nights and weekends he works as an editor for the leading
Swedish open source and free software publication Gnuheter. He is also
contributing editor of the Harvard Berkman Center publication on Internet
law issues, Greplaw.org.

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