CopyNight DC for January 2009

Last night’s CopyNight here in DC was the smallest it has been almost since I started going. No doubt this was entirely the fault of the weather. We had a decent snow Monday night and it started sleeting just a bit before the gathering was set to start. As it was there were six of us which made for a more concentrated discussion than usual.

Our regular coordinator, Joe, was unable to make it regardless of the weather due to a prior commitment, so I stepped in to lead the discussion. The experience was not too different from when I have acted as a moderator for a panel at a conference or convention. I read up on the assigned topic, the stance of Obama’s first round of appointees with regards to intellectual property. It is not encouraging.

We dug into that a little but given that the administration is just about a week old and many nominees are still being confirmed, we couldn’t really make any hard conclusions. It is tempting to judge, as some of the press has, the appointees in the DoJ based on their past employers and activities. This is especially true of Perelli, the assistant AG nominee.

Of course, given that national politics is our local news here in DC, the weight of experience tempered that rush to judgement. It is still very possible that if the marching orders from above are to strive for a better balance, these nominees will work as hard for that end as they may have in representing big content in the past.

Having exhausted the nominal topic, we ranged a bit further afield. Carey brought an article about some contention over a national library database. I asked how copyright has a bearing since a catalog of books would seem to be a fact about the world. She pointed out that the choices in how to organize that information for different purposes can be considered a protectable work. It is an unusual thought but one I have heard before and not too dissimilar to the choices a documentarian makes in editing a work. Few would argue that documentaries fall outside of copyright.

We also chatted about the digital TV transition. Sherwin, from Public Knowledge, and Carey contended that the complaints over funding of the coupon program are legitimate in response to my observation about critics who have claimed otherwise. Both of them were astonished at the technical details of how digital broadcast differs. I pointed them to the recent Doc Searls article I linked to from this site.

We also discussed the recent Pew survey that seems to indicate that a majority of rural residents do not want broadband internet. I asked about the potential for a reverse network effect, an idea put into my head by Ben Scott from Free Press. Kevin helped dig into it, realizing that the answer is more subtle than it first appears. Few public services are informational, only, and if we consider cost savings as a driver, alone, then use of the network hardly seems to make a difference in cash strapped localities. I personally still think broadband access should be available whether it is desired or not as I think it is a critical prerequisite as we continue to transform into a network society.

The discussion ran a bit longer than usual, too, since it seemed to be more heavily leavened with social chatter. It was a good night to gather indoors from the cold. We were clearly not alone in that thought as the venue seemed to be filled with about half a dozen other interest and discussion groups besides us. Every seemed reluctant to leave but for the best of reasons. I was glad of the weather for the chance to the chance for a much closer, more in depth discussion.

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