House subcommittee hearing on copyright goes 3-D

"My company wouldn't exist if studios didn't make big films," William Sherak, whose company converted the hit film “Avatar” from 2-D to 3-D, told members of a House Judiciary subcommittee on Thursday.

ADVERTISEMENT
Sherak had all the members of the subcommittee put on 3-D glasses to watch how a segment of a “Star Trek” film gets put together.

Sherak told lawmakers that small companies, such as his, that make up the multi-million dollar 3-D industry could be "severely impacted" by online piracy.

Sandra Aistars from the Copyright Alliance criticized a list of best practices on online piracy released by the White House last month. The White House collaborated with companies, such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to generate the list of best practices aimed at keeping online ads off websites that offer pirated content, but Aistars said the list's authors neglected to consult the creators of the content themselves.

"I was disappointed to see that this latest best practices document asked artists to be fully complacent in ad tracing. I think that’s probably beyond the ability of most artists who are on the road performing and working and trying to make a living," said Aistars.

Aistars said that she hoped to see the copyright alert system, which sends warnings to Internet subscribers if they share or download content on file-sharing sites, expanded to include photography, books and even lyrics sites.

"Right now, it’s too easy for all the identifying information to be stripped from a photograph as it moves through the digital space," said Aistars.

John Lapham of Getty Images said that without laws protecting photographs from free use online, the $7.5 billion to $8 billion market for visual content could collapse.

"We are big fans of the copyright office’s efforts to put out a small claims court process for copyright," he told the panel.

Tor Hansen of Yep Roc records, a label that includes artists, such as Fountains of Wayne and Josh Ritter, said its position in the global music market is threatened because radio stations in the United States are not paying royalties to artists for airing their performances.

Unlike most of the world, radio companies in the United States pay only songwriters and music publishers, not the artists themselves.

“Every country in the world holds royalties to our copyrights because we do not pay out. This is something that really needs to be looked at,” said Hansen. Hansen cited statistics from the International Federation for the Phonographic Industry that showed a 7 percent decline in the U.S. share of revenue for the global wholesale recorded music market between 2005 and 2012.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) argued that there is a promotional value to being on the radio that record labels don’t always acknowledge.

“There is value to being on the radio. You’re not going to go on the Yellow Pages," said Chaffetz.

Aistars acknowledged that drastic changes to the copyright law would not need to happen for creative industries to thrive.

"There are important steps you can take that don’t require revising Title 17. Encourage stakeholders to take responsible steps together to try and solve the problems we are facing in the marketplace," said Aistars. Aistars mentioned Google's algorithm for detecting sites that offer content in violation of the copyright law as an example of such a step.

"When stakeholders announce they’re taking measures themselves, it’ll be interesting to see what that changes over time," said Aistars.

The subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, which is holding two hearings on copyright law this month, will hear from technology companies next week.

This story was updated on Friday at 2:54 p.m.