OVERNIGHT TECH: House panel to talk copyright online

THE LEDE: The House Judiciary subcommittee on Intellectual Property will hold a hearing Thursday to examine the section of copyright law that provides protections for online services that can be used to violate intellectual property protections. 
 
Featuring testimony from tech companies, intellectual property holders and law professors, Thursday’s hearing will examine Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). That section of the law establishes “safe harbors” for online service providers. Generally, if an Internet company — such as Google or WordPress, both of which have representatives testifying Thursday — prohibits copyright infringement through its platform and takes steps to remove infringing content once it has been brought to the company’s attention, that company is not held responsible for that infringement.
 
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While tech companies say they rely on these safe harbor protections to facilitate online speech, some in the content industry have said the DMCA “notice and takedown” system, which requires copyright holders to notify a company if that company’s platform is facilitating copyright infringement, places too much responsibility on the copyright holders to repeatedly request takedowns for infringing content.
 
Maria Schneider, composer and representative of The Recording Academy, a trade association for musicians, will testify about the burdens on creators under the current system. The current copyright law “makes it my responsibility to police the entire Internet on a daily basis” and “creates an upside down world in which people can illegally upload my music in a matter of seconds,” she wrote in her prepared testimony. “But I, on the other hand, must spend countless hours trying to take it down, mostly unsuccessfully.”
 
Google’s senior copyright policy counsel Katherine Oyama will speak about the reliance of Google and other Internet companies on the DMCA’s safe harbor provisions. “The ‘safe harbors’ have been crucial not only to Google’s many online products and services, but also to those of nearly every other Internet company,” she said in her written testimony. Oyama will also tell subcommittee members about Google’s success in handling takedown requests despite an increase in takedown requests that the company has seen in recent years. 
 
In his testimony, Paul Sieminski, general counsel of Automattic, which operates WordPress, told subcommittee members about abuse of the DMCA’s takedown system. Sieminski said his team spends “significant effort reviewing and trying to weed out overbroad and abusive DMCA takedown notices, so that our users’ speech isn’t needlessly censored.”
 
Thursday’s hearing comes as a part of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s (R-Va.) sweeping review of copyright law.

Web inventors talks flawed tech policy: On the 25th birthday of the World Wide Web, inventor Tim Berners-Lee took to Reddit to talk about some of things that have happened to and because of his invention over the last quarter-decade. In a question-and-answer session on the site, Berners-Lee criticized U.S. laws governing the digital space, including the country’s copyright system.

Answering a question about digital rights management (DRM) technologies, which are widely used to keep tech users from using digital content in ways that violate copyright protections, Berners-Lee said that DRM technologies are “a pain in many ways, and should only be used for very ‘high value’ streams.” Digital laws — including copyright laws and hacking laws — “are seriously broken and need fixing separate from the DRM question,” he said.

Berners-Lee also said he is “optimistic” about the future of the open Internet. The open Internet is threatened “if ordinary web users are not sufficiently aware of threats and get involved,” he said. He pointed to effective, grassroots protests over flawed tech policies, including the Stop Online Piracy Act.

Senate Judiciary schedules STELA hearing: On March 26, the Senate Judiciary Committee will take a look at reauthorizing the law allowing satellite TV companies to beam broadcast channels to some rural customers. The committee was originally scheduled to hold a hearing that day on the proposed merger between Time Warner Cable and Comcast, but that session was pushed back to April 2.

Extending the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) is considered “must-pass” legislation in Congress, and a debate is likely to presage broader fights to overhaul TV rules and regulations. Witnesses for the hearing have not yet been announced.

Goodlatte pushes Senate patent reform: The Senate needs to take up a bill to fight “patent trolls,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) wrote in Roll Call on Wednesday. The House Judiciary Committee chairman, whose Innovation Act overwhelmingly passed the House last year, called for the Senate to follow up to prevent expensive lawsuits.

“I am optimistic that as the Senate moves toward consideration of legislation they will act just as the House did and pass comprehensive patent litigation reform that includes all of the necessary reforms made in the Innovation Act, including heightened pleading standards and fee shifting,” he wrote.

“Half measures and inaction are not viable options. The time is now, and the Innovation Act has helped set a clear bipartisan road map toward eliminating the abuses of our patent system, discouraging frivolous patent litigation and keeping U.S. patent laws up to date.”

FTC reaches settlement for 'Do Not Call' violations: The home security company Versatile Marketing Solutions will pay a fine for calling more than a million people on the national “Do Not Call” list. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleged that the company called people without checking whether or not they were on the list and ignored warning signs that the businesses that sold it the names and numbers had obtained them through illegal surveys and robocalls.

“Companies that use lead generators must exercise due diligence when they buy lists of phone numbers or else they can be on the hook for illegal telemarketing,” Jessica Rich, head of the commission’s consumer protection bureau, said in a statement. “Relying on a say-so that the numbers were obtained legally, or that the consumers have agreed to be called, even if their numbers are on the Do Not Call Registry, isn’t enough.”

The company was ordered to pay $3.4 million, but all but $320,700 of the penalty was suspended because the company was not able to pay.  

Google chiefs call for end of online censors: New techniques are making it increasingly possible for people in repressive countries to use the Web while eluding government censors, Google officials Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen wrote in a New York Times op-ed published in Wednesday’s paper. The two called for new designs, algorithms and government funding to support people try to avoid prying eyes.

“None of these challenges are new,” they wrote. “What is new is the possibility to overcome them — if we make the right public and private investments.”

Google also bringing on lobbyists: Google hired the Simmons and Russell Group to help lobby on “issues related to competition and technology,” the company revealed in a disclosure statement. The two partners, Robert Russell and Kyle Simmons, formerly served on Capitol Hill as the chiefs of staff to Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), head of the Commerce subcommittee on Communications, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), respectively.

 

ON TAP

The House Judiciary subcommittee will take a look at the copyright law at 9:30 a.m.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will testify on the Obama administration’s fiscal 2015 budget request before the House Homeland Security Committee at 2:00.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

House Judiciary Committee Republicans are weighing the costs of a system that would allow states to collect a sales tax on online purchases.

Websites should not be able to end in “.sucks,” Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said on Wednesday. 

A federal court reversed an earlier decision and will allow the National Security Agency to hold phone records relating to pending lawsuits.

Gridlock and dysfunction in Washington won’t have a major effect on innovation throughout the country, according to Bill Gates. 

A top financial industry regulator is cautioning investors about the risks of bitcoin.

 

Please send tips and comments to Kate Tummarello, katet@thehill.com, and Julian Hattem, jhattem@thehill.com

Follow Hillicon Valley on Twitter: @HilliconValley, @ktummarello, @jmhattem 

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