- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2003

It’s clear our policymakers in Washington have come a long way this year in understanding the importance of preventing the illegal copying and distribution of digital content and relying on private-sector ingenuity and innovation to do so.

Digital piracy hurts all of us — not just the individuals and companies who create imaginative and exciting content, but consumers as well in the form of higher prices and less incentive for continued creation of content. The real question is not whether to protect digital content, but how.

To their credit, many leaders in Congress realize the answer to that question is to let the private sector solve the problem. Both a newly minted congressional caucus and the Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force are correctly focusing on more appropriate government roles, such as educating citizens about the effects of piracy and enforcing the copyright laws already on the books.

The bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Intellectual Property Promotion and Piracy Prevention, chaired by Reps. Tom Feeney, Florida Republican, Robert Wexler, Florida Democrat, Mary Bono, California Republican, and Adam Smith, Washington Democrat, is educating fellow members about intellectual property rights in the modern age.

Also recently, the Senate Republican High-Technology Task Force issued its declaration of principles, explicitly repudiating the approach of government mandates.

And that recognition is key: The government can never trump the innovation and consumer satisfaction that the marketplace provides. This is a stark contrast to the attitude of Congress as recently as last winter, when there were loud calls for government mandates to “solve” the complex problem of digital piracy.

The solution offered at the time was for the federal government to pick which technology would be relied upon to prevent piracy and then force private companies to install that technology in every product they made that could conceivably be used with digital content.

It was as clear then as it is now: a “one-size-fits-all” solution cannot solve the piracy problem. But it surely would raise prices for consumers, stifle the development of new products, and even make the work of hackers easier.

Putting the government in the role of technology referee is illogical on its face, because the expertise resides not in government but in the high-tech and consumer electronics industries, which have created many anti-copying technologies in the past and which continue to develop more.

There’s a much better way to save America’s digital content from theft: collaborative efforts by the private sector to develop both anti-piracy technologies and new business models that meet acceptance in the marketplace. This is the free market at work — letting those with the expertise develop solutions that will succeed in the marketplace by meeting consumer expectations.

Since January, the Alliance for Digital Progress has advocated this “no mandates” approach, because our members knew what the power of the market could do, even in a few months’ time. Our broad base of consumer groups, taxpayer organizations, public interest groups, industry associations and businesses all agree that a creative private market — backed by education and copyright enforcement by the government — is the key to success.

We’re gratified so many members of Congress agree. For example, the Republican task force principles are strong in their call for private-sector solutions. And at the caucus’ launch, Mrs. Bono said it was crucial that companies develop new business models for digital content that take advantage of the Internet.

The proof that this approach works is already in the marketplace. Apple’s iTunes Music Store provides legal downloads of songs over the Internet for 99 cents apiece — and has sold more than 5 million. Real Networks has already launched a competing service with 79-cent songs. Back in November, several movie studios launched the Movielink service, which offers legal Internet downloads of movies. These are encouraging examples of functioning anti-copying systems, and as long as the free market is at work, more will come.

The way for Congress and the nation to go is clear: encourage a market-driven environment that ensures strong protections for content as well as great products for consumers. Private-sector collaboration, not regulation, will deliver the greatest benefits for America.

Fred McClure is president of the Alliance for Digital Progress, a broad-based coalition opposing government-designed and mandated technology to solve the problem of digital piracy.


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