About Mr. Coble

I knew a bit about Congressman Howard Berman, since he’s the representative for my home state, California, but I’d never heard of Congressman Howard Coble (R-North Carolina) until I learned he was Berman’s co-sponsor for the so called “Peer to Peer Piracy” bill.

Here’s a list of Coble’s top eleven contributors (via PACs and other forms of contributions):

Assn of Trial Lawyers of America $10,000
Winston & Strawn $5,515
Recording Industry Assn of America $5,374
National Assn of Broadcasters $5,360
ASCAP $5,000
National Assn of Realtors $5,000
Teamsters Union $5,000
Wal-Mart Stores $5,000
GlaxoSmithKline $4,999
National Cable Television Assn $4,999
American Intellectual Property Law Assn $4,000

You will note that the list features several large entertainment corporations, with vested interests in controlling intellectual policy, including the Recording Industry Academy of America (RIAA) who might as well have written the bill themselves, The National Association of Broadcasters, ASCAP, and the National Cable Television Association. You will notice that the top two positions are occupied by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, and Wallace and Strawn, a law firm who represents Euro Disney, and Microsoft (Palladium chip anyone?). In fact, just as with Howard Berman, the two industries that are responsible for most of Coble’s funding are:

Lawyers/Law Firms $35,515
TV/Movies/Music $33,483

Now, I can see that Coble would likely always have a sizeable percentage of his money coming from lawyers and law firms since he’s on the Judiciary committee. But last year the top industries his monies came from were Pharmaceuticals/Health, and Lawyers and Law firms, with TV/Movies/Music the third. Do I think he’s representing the voters of North Carolina when he sponsored this bill? No, I really don’t. He may think he is, having been informed by the relentless lobbies of the entertainment industry that what’s good for them and for attorneys (who always win when litigation is involved) is good for his constituents.

I also suspect that, like many people who have little or no exposure to digital technology, and who don’t actively use it themselves, Senators Coble and Berman must depend on the information they are given—and right now, that information is not coming from end users, it’s filtered through the paranoid neuroses of the RIAA, who not only don’t want files to circulate, they want to be able to control digital technology, instead letting users control their own hardware and software.

Who Is Howard Berman?

Howard Berman (D-California) is co-sponsor with Howard Coble (R-North Carolina) of the Peer to Peer Piracy Bill). I’d like to make sure you know that Congressman Berman’s top five financial contributors (via PACs) are:

Walt Disney Co. $31,000
AOL Time Warner $28,050
Vivendi Universal $27,591
Viacom Inc. $13,000
News Corp. $11,750

Other major contributors include well-known intellectual property law firms in Los Angeles, like Irell and Manella, Phillips and Cohen, “the nation’s only law firm that is dedicated solely to representing whistleblowers,” Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca & Fischer, the Los Angeles entertainment firm, responsible for, among other things the Divx DVD scheme to charge users each time they viewed a Divx digital video. In fact the two top industries who have supported Mr. Berman are:

TV/Movies/Music $186,891
Lawyers/Law Firms $97,100

Now, granted, I’m just a naive digital medievalist from rural New Hampshire, but to me that looks like Mr. Berman isn’t so much interested in doing what’s right, or what’s best for his entire constituency, or even in doing what’s sensible. He’s acting in the best interests of his largest contributors, two groups who stand to benefit financially from his proposed legislation. Take a look at what Dan Gillmore of the San Jose Mercury Newshas to say about recent legislation regarding distribution of content, paying particular attention to Mr. Berman’s role. Now, it’s more than likely that Mr. Berman is simply naive about the technology involved, and is therefore assuming that the “truths” he is given by various lobbiests and special interests are in fact true—you and I, then, need to let him know what we think.

What about the Artists?

I’ve already ranted about copyright, but it’s time to rant some more. I’m perfectly willing to pay for a product I want, but there need to be some changes to the way recordings, especially digital recordings, are sold. We need to protect consumers’ rights to make personal copies of lawfully purchased recordings, and insure that artists can directly distribute their performances via digital files, and internet broadcast, without needing expensive licensing arbitrage, and five or six adminstrative drones raiding the till. Right now, very little profit trickles down to the artists; most of the money goes to the drones.

I’d like to buy digital music files over the net, and from a kiosk at the mall. I’d also like to see the artists’ rights respected, and I’d like to see them getting paid. I’d like to be able to explore the work of unfamiliar artists, by downloading digital music files, and by listening to Internet Radio. The RIAA doesn’t want me to do any of those things, and so I’m boycotting the RIAA.

As I explained earlier, we’re not buying CDs from RIAA distributors/producers. Right now in fact, we’re not buyiing CDs at all. We want to be able to use our CDs where we want, and how we want, including making personal copies. We also want the artists to be paid. Right now, they frequently aren’t.

First of all, in case you’ve forgotten about it, or never read it, here’s Courtney Love talking about the corrupt nature of the biz, and how the real pirates are involved in the recording industry. You really need to read the whole piece—it’s intelligent, facutual and thought provoking. Ms. Love points out that “The system’s set up so almost nobody gets paid,” and talks about how “work for hire” with regard means that record companies, thanks to RIAA buying Congress, can own copyright in perpetuity. As she points out (the links are mine):

Last November, a Congressional aide named Mitch Glazier, with the support of the RIAA, added a “technical amendment” to a bill that defined recorded music as “works for hire” under the 1978 Copyright Act.

. . .
That subtle change in copyright law will add billions of dollars to record company bank accounts over the next few years&7mdash;billions of dollars that rightfully should have been paid to artists. A “work for hire” is now owned in perpetuity by the record company.

Next, I particularly want to point you to Janis Ian, yeah, that’s right that Janis Ian. She makes some very good points about the “internet debacle,” responding to the typical naive assertions about digital distribution as “thievery.” Among other things:

Most consumers have no problem paying for entertainment. One has only to look at the success of Fictionwise.com and the few other websites offering books and music at reasonable prices to understand that. If the music industry had a shred of sense, they’d have addressed this problem seven years ago, when people like Michael Camp were trying to obtain legitimate licenses for music online. Instead, the industry-wide attitude was “It’ll go away.” That’s the same attitude CBS Records had about rock ‘n’ roll when Mitch Miller was head of A&R. (And you wondered why they passed on The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.)