I have always wondered, in the digital age, where there are really no borders any more, whether anyone in government is thinking about copyright in a world wide way. Wednesday afternoon, the head of the Copyright Office, Maria Pallante testified before Congress, and called for an update to US copyright law.  Ms. Pallante titled her speech,  “The Next Great Copyright Act.”

Some excerpts:

Congresswoman Chu: Let me ask about enforcement. Only a small number of internet infringements have been enforced – how do we address that?

Pallante: Exclusive rights are meaningless without enforcement. Perhaps there could be criminal penalties. Or for small artists, perhaps a small claims process. Enforcement must be on the table going forward.

Congressman Marino: You mentioned that there are a number of important issues –

can you name your top three?

Pallante: Public performance right for sound recordings, orphan works, and illegal streaming would be the top three.

Marino: I brought these issues up on my recent trips to China and Russia. What

are other countries doing to update their copyright laws?

Pallante: It depends on the country, and we interact with different countries in different ways. There are bilateral trade agreements. But some are behind us, and some are ahead of us. Some are doing web blocking as a last resort.

Congressman Conyers: Do you agree that more should be done in the area of privacy to protect the intellectual property that is the object of theft?

Pallante: I do, though I’m not an I’m not an expert in privacy law.

One of the most interesting parts of the conversation:

Congressman Deutch: We have crossed into a new era in the copyright conversation. And we must ensure that our laws work in the digital age. But for those growing upon the internet, copyright is the thing keeping you from doing all the things you’d like to do that you should be able to for free. How do we reach out and make those people care about copyright?

Pallante: No one is more pained than us to see the disrespect for copyright law. You have to figure out what the exclusive rights of authors will be –the public performance right is critical. At the same time there are incidental copies, and we should exempt some of them. Although we love the trade associations that visit us, getting around them to the individual creators would be instructional. For roundtables, get out of Washington.

The entire exchange is here

So, the question is, will the government ever give artists the protection that they deserve for their work? And is the world even interested in that happening. I was talking to someone this week who is 30 years old. This person has never been alive when people had to pay for music (or photos). How does one explain to that person that a photographer’s (or Musician’s ) work is their livelihood and they deserve to get paid for it.

This reminds me of something that my friend Dave Douglas (World renowned jazz trumpet player) once told me. After a college gig, he stood at the merch table to sign the CD’s that people had purchased. Three college students walked up. The first guy handed him one of his CD’s to sign, which he gladly did. The next two guys handed him CDs that they had burned from the first guy’s disc. When he refused to sign them, they started swearing at him, and told him they would never listen to his music again! I don’t think logic could ever prevail in that situation.

All of this started the day before when: (From the Los Angeles Times)

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court, in a major ruling on copyright law, has given foreign buyers of textbooks, movies and other products a right to resell them in the United States without the permission of the copyright owner.

The 6-3 decision is a victory for a former USC student from Thailand, Supap Kirtsaeng, who figured he could earn money by buying textbooks at lower costs in his native country and selling them in the United States.

He was sued by publisher John Wiley & Sons  for violating its copyright protection. A jury in New York agreed with the publisher, and the former student was assessed damages of $600,000 for willfully violating the company’s copyrights.

But the Supreme Court reversed that judgment today in Kirtsaeng vs. John Wiley and ruled the student had the better interpretation of the law.

The decision helps book buyers and merchants who resell goods purchased abroad, but it could prove to be a setback for American companies that sell copyrighted goods overseas.

Until now, these U.S. copyright holders have maintained that they can sell copyrighted works abroad — and sometimes, at much lower prices — and prevent them from being re-imported for sale in this country without their permission.

But the justices decided Tuesday that the holders’ rights expire when their copyrighted product is lawfully sold overseas. Under the so-called “first sale” doctrine, a copyright holder has a right to profit from the first sale of a book, but not its resale.

Justice Stephen Breyer noted the textbooks at issue were lawfully made overseas with the permission of the copyright owner. They were not pirated copies. In that instance, the “first sale” doctrine applies, he said, so that buyer was free to resell the books he had lawfully purchased.

YIKES! Does this open up a can of worms????

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