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Summary:

Call it a Walter Cronkite moment — in his widely read technology column, the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg Thursday issued a digital call to arms, telling the U.S. Congress that it’s time to pass laws to straighten out the digital copyright mess that’s keeping us […]

Call it a Walter Cronkite moment — in his widely read technology column, the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg Thursday issued a digital call to arms, telling the U.S. Congress that it’s time to pass laws to straighten out the digital copyright mess that’s keeping us from downloading video without fear.

While we add a hearty hear, hear to the Mr. YouTube-goes-to-Washington tenor of Uncle Walt’s missive, we can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t Congress and the general communications regulatorium that got us all into the mess in the first place. Instead of just asking for new laws that may never come (and will be messed up if they do), why can’t Walt lead the way in an active manner, by turning his videocam on elected officials and getting them to explain on the record what they are or aren’t doing to solve the problem?

In his column, Mossberg is dead on in determining both the problem and the blame: Basically, that Congress lets special interests run the law-making machine in their favor, end-users be damned:

What consumers need is real clarity on the whole issue of what is or isn’t permissible use of the digital content they have legally obtained. And that can come only from Congress. Congress is the real villain here, for having failed to pass a modern copyright law that protects average consumers, not just big content companies.

We wouldn’t stop there, since Congress is equally to blame for fouling up our nation’s telecommunications industry, saddling it with so many confusing, contradictory and complex regulations that only huge companies — and their armies of well-paid lawyers — can even begin to compete with any sense of clarity. As long as we’re cleaning house, let’s clean everything.

But Mossberg simply stomping his feet on his considerable soapbox won’t get it done, not even for the most powerful man in technology journalism. People who follow telecom policy know how important communications infrastructure is to the overall American economy and way of life, but they are also realists and know that communications may never be emotionally strong enough to become a true “campaign issue,” one that candidates for major public offices can’t ignore. Until millions of registered voters are losing jobs or going hungry because they can’t download the Daily Show from YouTube, don’t expect Congress to move on its own anytime soon.

That said, there’s still a way to start the pot boiling, and there’s nobody better than Walt himself to turn up the heat. Instead of a one-time column, why doesn’t Walt take his own public service message to heart and start using his bully pulpit to interview leading lawmakers, asking them on the record when they’re going to fix the copyright system?

As Walt says:

If you don’t like all of the restrictions on the use of digital content, the solution isn’t to steal the stuff. A better course is to pressure Congress to pass a new copyright law, one that protects the little guy and the Internet itself.

Show us the way, Walt! Show us the way!

  1. [...] all the hoopla over Internet video and the copyright disaster that is YouTube/Viacom, I find it hard to see network DVR as such a big [...]

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  2. Personally I think there is a fairly clean line between personal use of copyrighted material and that use which is fundamentally meant or intended for mass consumption. If one were to share a video with another individual, like the song analogy, I doubt very much if the rights holder would be concerned with hunting that offense down. However, if you make something available to a network that facilitates mass distribution that undermines the value of the content in a significant way, or even worse, entitles the facilitator network to profit from said content, than clearly this is where rights should be protected. This is not brain surgery. I think the DMCA loophole is an issue, and that should be clarified so that YouTube et al cannot continue to look a blind eye to illegal activity and remain protected.

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  3. Just for the record, this is the third or fourth column I have written over the years attacking the copyright/DRM system. What I am suggesting is that citizens pressure Congress, not journalists.

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  4. Paul Kapustka Saturday, March 24, 2007

    Walt, thanks for both the great column and the clarification. I just think it would be fun to see you grill some members of Congress on the issue on your videoblog. Ultimately it is pressure from the voting public that will sway Congress, but isn’t it also the job of journalists to question those in power as to why things aren’t changing faster? Given your stature, you might have a little better access to the legislators, who then couldn’t duck the question once in front of your camera.

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  5. [...] Excellent Mossberg meets Cronkite moment spotted on NewTeeVee. [...]

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