Writers Guild of America tells US government that copyright shouldn't trump free expression

The Writers Guild of America submitted an exemplary set of comments to the U.S. Government's Internet Policy Task Force green paper on the future of American copyright. The WGA calls for balance in copyright law, and stresses that censorship, surveillance and chilling of critical speech have no place in copyright policy. It's amazing to see artists' groups taking a stand for free expression when it comes to copyright — far too often, arts groups are staunch free speech defenders except when it comes to unproven accusations of copyright infringement, which they hold to be sufficient grounds for arbitrary censorship.

But artists who think the issue through know that communications policies like copyright can't do their job if they compromise free expression. Artists have a wide variety of business-models and commercial opportunities, but if you're making art in a way that requires total surveillance and arbitrary censorship, you're doing art wrong.

Torrentfreak summarizes the best of the WGA submission. It's an important read: it shows that the entertainment industry's regulatory agenda doesn't serve the creators they employ (and exploit).

The writers don't agree with the Hollywood studios, who argue that high damages are needed as a deterrent. Instead, they warn that the current legislation stifles innovation as people may be hesitant to start innovating businesses, fearing that copyright holders may come after them.

"Rather, the threat of such large damages and the cost of litigation may deter further investment in web sites that serve as venues for independent production and allow users to upload content without gatekeeper permission for fear of liability."

The same "chilling effect" applies to a proposal which would make streaming of copyrighted videos a felony. This could introduce jail sentences for people who watch or stream copyrighted material on YouTube, and prevent people from showing off their talent online.

"A broad interpretation of such a law could chill innovation through the use of copyrighted works in remixes, cover versions of songs and fair use. For example, artists like Justin Bieber have used YouTube videos of themselves singing covers as a way to gain exposure," WGAW writes.

"Allowing felony charges for such activities could have a chilling effect on artists who use such independent forums and may harm sites that allow streaming of user-generated content by driving away contributors," the writers add.

With regard to the DMCA the labor union suggests that the Government could setup a common template for takedown notices, making them easier for smaller copyright holders to issue and for websites to process. At the same time, DMCA abuse and mistakes should be prevented where possible.

Finally, the writers warn against the voluntary anti-piracy agreements that have emerged recently, including the six-strikes Copyright Alert System. WGAW fears that these initiatives are not always in the best interests of consumers.

Hollywood Writers Warn Against Draconian Anti-Piracy Measures