Okay, the answers to your questions for U.S. Representative Rick Boucher are in. No, his staff didn't write them. Everything you see here is straight from the Congressman himself. This is a nice bit of insight into legislative thinking about the Internet, and gives a little info on how you can help change laws you don't like, too.
1) Protecting our rights
The general trend since the Internet became a mass public resource has been for government to attempt to find ways to monitor people using it (Carnivore for example), to listen in on their communications (Key escrow), or to use the Internet as a means to remove consumer rights in favor of total control by businesses (DCMA). How do you feel about these technologies and laws, and how do you propose to keep the Internet a place where ordinary citizens can communicate and conduct business without giving up the rights that they have in the physical world?
There is a constant need for vigilance in the protection of the rights of Internet users. Several years ago as we were debating legislation of I co-authored to permit the export of strong encryption software from the United States, the FBI proposed an amendment which would have imposed the first restriction on the use of encryption software domestically. Specifically, the FBI's amendment would have required that every encryption product contain a back door which could be opened with a key held by a third party. This so-called "key escrow" requirement posed a major threat to freedom from the prying eyes of law enforcement for all Internet users. Working with other members of the House Commerce Committee who shared my opposition to the amendment, we succeeded in defeating the measure by the impressive vote of 30 to 10. I do not anticipate the key escrow requirement, or a similar key recovery requirement, being seriously debated by the Congress again. Nevertheless, we must continually work to protect the openness of the Internet and the rights of Internet users from attacks which may come from many directions, including law-enforcement, the copyright owning community, and those who would filter the Internet because of a variety of social concerns.
2) Copyright laws
Let me preface this by saying that I respect copyright, and feel that creators deserve a limited period of time to enjoy sole profits from their works. However, it's become obvious that special intrests have corrupted the copyright system to insure that they can receive sole benefits for long after our founding fathers intended. My question for you is twofold: How long do you feel is an appropriate amount of time for copyright protection, and is there legislation pending to fix the problem with copyright?
The recent extension of the copyright term by the Congress was wholly unjustified. The United States Constitution establishes a regime of intellectual property protection and specifies that exclusive rights in original works should be preserved for the creator of the works for a "limited time". I am concerned that the very wealthy copyright owning community, including motion picture studios, recording companies and publishers have seriously unbalanced the Congressional process in the creation and amendment of intellectual property laws with the result that the "limited time" concept has largely been forgotten. I'm particularly troubled by provisions of the digital millennium copyright act which threaten the long-established fair use rights of American citizens, and I am in the process of drafting broad-based legislation which will reaffirm traditional fair use rights for the users of information.
in the USA is it legal to possess a piece of equipment designed to kill a human being but it's illegal to possess a piece of software designed to copy the content of a DVD?
The most troublesome provision of the digital millennium copyright act is found in section 1201 (a ) (1) which makes it unlawful for a manufacturer to produce a device which is "primarily designed" for the purpose of infringing a copyright. This provision is fraught with problems, not the least of which is the impossibility of knowing at the time a device which has multiple uses is manufactured whether a judge or jury will find at a later time that the device was "primarily designed" for an infringing use. More than 20 years ago, the United States Supreme Court in the Betamax case held that if a device has both infringing and non infringing uses, its manufacture is lawful due to the presence of non infringing uses. Section 1201 adversely affects that long-standing doctrine and will hinder the willingness of equipment manufactures to introduce devices which could potentially be used to infringe copyrights even if the device has many helpful non infringing uses. Eventually, a modification of this section of the code will be required.
4) How do you keep up?
With the recent story on the flooding of emails to representatives, I want to know how you deal with that flood? Do you rate snail mail a higher priority than email?
Electronic mail receives the same dignity in my office that is accorded to every other communication which we receive. We prioritize our responses to incoming information based upon the urgency of the material not based upon the medium by which the communication was received. Accordingly, electronic mail has the same dignity in my office that is accorded to paper mail, faxes and telephone calls. Unlike many congressional offices which responde to electronic mail by regular mail, we respond to electronic mail over the Internet. My staff forwards to my desktop computer incoming e-mail along with a suggested response which I then edit and approve for delivery by electronic means to the constituent.
5) Taxes and the Internet
This year, in my home state of Ohio, the legislation introduced a "Voluntary" tax on Interenet purchases. That is, I can tell them that I purchased X amount of books online and they'll tax me accordingly.
Even though this tax is "Voluntary" I have been informed by my accountant that I have to pay this tax, reguardless. Thereby, my state is taxing purchases that were made "out of state" as it were.
My question is, how do you feel about taxation of the internet, specifically "Voluntary" ones like the State of Ohio has implemented?
Most states impose a "use tax" on purchases made by residents of the state from out-of-state retailers. The use tax is at the same rate as the sales tax imposed by the state on products purchased within the state. Accordingly, we all have an obligation to pay to the state in which we reside a use tax on all the items we purchase from out-of-state. The use tax applies whether we purchase the item over the telephone, through a catelogue order or over the Web. The State of Ohio through the device mentioned in the question is attempting to assert a collection mechanism for its use tax. There are no congressional proposals pending which would prohibit states from collecting use taxes on purchases made from out-of-state retailers. In fact, I doubt that such a proposal at the federal level would be constitutional. We are presently having a debate on the extension of the moratorium which expires this coming October on the imposition of taxes on Internet service providers and the imposition of any tax which has a discriminatory effect with respect to the Internet. I support the extension of the Internet tax moratorium. Some members of Congress are now urging that legislation be adopted which would facilitate the escrow of sales taxes on all out-of-state purchases, whether the purchases are made over the Web, by telephone or by catalog order. The proposal is supported by many states and by traditional brick and mortor retailers who do not have an interstate business. I seriously doubt that the Congress will give active consideration to this proposal at the present time; however, in future years, as electronic commerce occupies a greater percentage of all commerce, the proposal may gain added currency.
6) Taking back the 'Net
Much recent technology legislation - most notably the DMCA and UCITA - seem unreasonably skewed toward large corporate interests seeking copyright, patent, and licensing protections in the digital world they don't enjoy in the analog world. I don't think it's a secret to anyone that such legislation is all but purchased outright through campaign contributions and soft-money party donations.
Many American citizens, unfortunately, don't have sufficient education or interest to be able to assess how technology legislation affects them, their wallets, and the media they consume, and the mainstream media don't help them understand the technical issues, the legislative process, or the influence of money in politics any better.
My question related to this is: What can the more technically-aware citizenry do to steer the law back to a more reasonable course? How can we convince or coerce our elected representatives into replacing sane limits on copyright, sane policy toward retail taxation in digital markets, and a sane approach to regulating the Internet that recoginizes the opportunites and limitations inherent in the medium?
I am in the process of drafting comprehensive legislation which will reaffirm the fair use rights of the users of information and create a better balance between the copyright owners, who currently dominate the Congressional debates on intellectual property measures, and the users of copyrighted information. My measure will be strongly supported by universities and libraries throughout the nation. It will be strongly opposed by motion picture companies, the recording industry and book publishers. Our only chance of enacting our proposal into law will be through the formation of a broad grassroots effort nationwide. As a part of our grassroots effort, I am collecting the electronic mail addresses of individuals who will serve as "activists" on behalf of our measure. From time to time, we will call on these individuals to contact their member of Congress and encourage the legislator to support the passage of our bill or to assist us in defeating hostile amendments which are being offered by those who oppose us. I would encourage anyone interested in assisting our effort to send their electronic mail address to jody.olson @mail.house.gov
7) Overall cluefulness?
A few years ago, it seemed like legislation was being passed to regulate the Inetrnet without the most basic knowledge of how it works. One got the impression that legislators thought the Net is like television and that it would be straightforward for US laws to control its content.
Today, people may argue with a lot of the laws being passed but it seems to me that at least lawmakers now understand what it is that they're trying to control - that it's not television and that it's not inside the United States. Is that perception correct? Do most members of the House and Senate at least have a rough idea of what the internet is? Do all of them at least have a high-ranking staffer who does?
In 1996, I was one of two cofounders of the Congressional Internet Caucus. We founded the Caucus in the wake of the disastrous debate on the so-called communications decency act which was made a part of the telecommunications act of 1996. Those of us who opposed the communications decency act argued that it was impossible to implement given the architecture of the Internet and that it was unconstitutional on its face as an abridgment of the First Amendment guarantees of free speech. By a very narrow vote, the communications decency act was approved, and predictably the United States Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional by a unanimous vote of 9 -- 0. It was apparent from an observation of the debate on the communications decency act that most members of Congress did not understand the fundamental structure of the Internet and its capabilities and limitations. Accordingly, we formed the Internet Caucus as an educational forum to provide information about Internet functionality to members. We wanted to make sure that when future policy debates affecting the Internet are before the Congress that members would make their decisions with a sound foundation of knowledge about the Internet's capabilities and limitations. Today, the Internet Caucus has more than 145 members. It is the largest and most active Caucus in the Congress, and I am pleased to serve as one of two House cochairs of the Caucus. Each year, we host a variety of seminars on the current policy challenges affecting the Internet, and we present knowledgeable speakers who offer views, both pro and con, on the most important information technology policy matters we are considering. Our sessions well attended by members of Congress , and I believe that we have achieved the goal of ensuring that members make their decisions with adequate knowledge about the Internet's functionality.
8) Free Speech and Computer Code by IanCarlson
I applaude your questioning of some of the facets of the DMCA, and as a resident of Virginia, I am quite proud that an elected official from my state is one of the first to question these overly restrictive copyright laws. Your fight for the people will not go unnoticed.
I have a question pertaining to uncompiled code and freedom of speech. My understanding is that source code is just language, like that of an essay or poem. Essays and poems cannot (for the most part) be "banned" by the government as they are First Amendment protected speech.
How is it that high-powered organizations like the MPAA have won lawsuits against web sites that have done nothing more than make a link to uncompiled code? Aren't these sites and the programmers that wrote the code protected under First Amendment free speech?
I need to learn more about the precise circumstance in which links to Web sites that contain uncompiled code have been taken down pursuant to requests from the copyright owners. Unfortunately, I do not have sufficient information to answer this question of the present time.
9) Government playing catch-up, and losing.
DISCLAIMER: I am one of Rep. Boucher's constituents here in the ninth congressional district of Virginia. I've also voted for him five times. Consume the appropriate volume of NaCl.
Professor Clay Shirky spoke at length in a recent Slashdot interview about the desperate efforts being made by corporate interests to hobble the Internet. He noted that companies are so loathe to change their business models that they would rather bolt the existing business infrastructure onto the Internet than create a new business environment better suited to the strengths and weaknesses inherent in the online world. For example, Napster sent the recording industry into a tailspin because, despite billions in "e-tailing" investment, that industry still deals primarily in physical artifacts (i.e. compact discs) instead of pure data.
What, if anything, should the federal government be doing to assist the transition from "meatspace" business models to networked models? Should Congress, as Senator Hatch recently mused in the Napster hearings, actually go so far as to compel this transition through legislation (e.g. mandatory licensing of intellectual property)?
Every farsighted business will adopt a Web strategy both to enhance its own profitability and to assure its survival. The question relates to the music industry, and I will offer my views regarding the much-publicized debate about the availability of music over the Internet. I have long urged the recording industry to create its own Web sites upon which the most popular music will be made available for download over the Internet for a reasonable fee. Today, most of the music that is available for a fee on line is exotic. The popular songs are generally not available. The recording industry is still clinging to its traditional practice of selling music as a part of an album and making the CD which contains the album available through physical record stores or by mail delivery. The industry's strategy of attempting to sue out of existence every Web based music delivery service is doomed to long-term failure. The industry is simply going to have to go beyond its traditional practices and start making its highest value music available over the Internet. The failure of the record labels to do so has driven millions of American music lovers to Napster. When the music industry makes its most popular music available over the Internet for download for a reasonable fee, either through its own sites or by a licensing of Napster, it will enjoy a dramatic expansion in the market for music. The industry will be significantly enriched, and Internet users will have the convenience of being able to obtain immediately the most popular music for a reasonable fee. It is too early to predict the response the Congress may provide if the music industry continues to resist the Internet as a delivery mechanism. I can say however, with certainty that there are a number of members of Congress who share my view that the music industry whas been shortsighted in failing to realize the many benefits of the Internet as a delivery mechanism for music.
10) Just who is answering these questions?
I am interested in knowing who the actual person replying to these questions is. Does the representative answer the questions? Or does it go to his staff and come back with canned answers from his staff? Does Rep Boucher at least read the questions so he knows what Slashdotters want to know? Thanks
I have personally answered these questions through the use of the Dragon NaturallySpeaking software which I use on the computer at my home when composing text.