The election results are in and the balance of government has not changed significantly. What do these results mean for technology policy? Some of the issues we see gaining traction include:
Copyright reform: Fourteen million people spoke out against SOPA and PIPA, and that makes copyright reform a real possibility The Copyright Office’s recent ruling that ripping one’s DVD to one’s own device is not a fair use makes ripe a fix ensuring that such activity does not violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Should the Supreme Court rule that Supap Kirtsaeng cannot dispose of the textbooks he bought overseas in the United States without violating copyright law, there could be a serious attempt to reverse that decision. Otherwise, everybody’s ability to take advantage of the first-sale doctrine will be severely limited.
Discussions are underway about trying to pass legislation that would allow for others to use works under copyright but for which the owner cannot be found (so-called orphan works). Look also for legislation requiring the U.S. Trade Representative to be more transparent, accountable and balanced in its treatment of copyright in trade agreements.
The future of video: The FCC has a tremendous role to play in making the video marketplace competitive and consumer-friendly. The current FCC has been hands off — despite it’s recommendation in the National Broadband Plan, it has done nothing to ensure that consumers can use any device of their choosing to watch TV and it has not finished proceedings to ensure that 1) online video distributors (OVDs) have the same rights and protections as multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) like cable and satellite; or 2) independent programmers are protected from the anticompetitive actions of cable operators. It remains to be seen whether the next FCC chair will make the future of video a priority.
Open Internet/FCC authority: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will decide the fate of the Open Internet and the FCC’s ability to protect consumers. This spring the court will render a decision in Verizon v. FCC to challenge network-neutrality rules. Verizon’s challenge is that the FCC lacks the authority to regulate the network-management practices of broadband Internet-access providers. Should the FCC lose the case, regardless of the reason, Democrats on Capitol Hill will seek to reinstate the net-neutrality rules.
Given the control of House by Republicans, passage of such a bill will largely be a symbolic task. In fact, it is widely assumed that the GOP will introduce a bill stripping the FCC of any and all authority over broadband Internet access and instead giving the Federal Trade Commission enforcement power over broadband providers. And legislation to repeal net neutrality will go nowhere in the Senate.
Gigi Sohn is president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest group.