Thursday, September 25, 2008

Viacom, NBCU and Others Form Online Lobbying Group

On Tuesday, a new lobbying group was announced called Arts + Labs. It is backed by NBC Universal, Viacom, Microsoft, Cisco Systems, AT&T and the Songwriters Guild of America. And it is run by two Washington power lobbyists– Mike McCurry, who was President Bill Clinton’s press secretary, and Mark McKinnon, who has worked as a media adviser to President Bush and Senator John McCain. According to the group’s site, it wants to help “creators” (read media companies) get “fairly compensated for the use of their work.” How? There is talk of public education and discussion among industry participants. As far as I can see, the only real policy issue the site raises is what it calls “robust networks.” The group says “network operators must have the flexibility to manage and expand their networks to defend against net pollution and illegal file trafficking which threatens to congest and delay the network for all consumers.” I interpret “illegal file trafficking” to mean trading copyrighted material. So the group is calling for Internet service providers to have the right to block copyrighted content. That’s not entirely a surprise. NBC has long been interested in having technology companies, such as Internet providers, find ways to block the unauthorized transmission of its content. NBC’s general counsel, Rick Cotton, said as much in our Bits debate on copyright last year. And AT&T has indicated several times it is amenable to such a proposal, including on a panel at the Consumer Electronics Show last year. When I got Mr. McCurry on the phone and asked him what the organization is meant to do, the first thing he said was “find out how to curb illegal file trading.” He said that the group will work to keep Congress from passing laws that might limit the ability of Internet service providers to install systems that would block copyrighted material.

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