I rarely end up agreeing with the Obama Administration on much of anything, but we seem to have some common ground on the issue of copyright law as it affects the nation’s telecommunications policy.
Now I know that sounds eye-glazingly long and ominous.
So, let’s put it a different way.
Do you know what those morons in Congress have brought about?
Imagine that you bought an iPhone 4 from Verizon, paid them well over $100 a month for the two year contract, and the contract has expired. Let’s say you’ve paid $1,500 or so.
Sprint offers you a better deal. But the phone is “locked” on Verizon. So you buy an inexpensive piece of software on eBay which will unlock the phone.
Because of an obscure law passed by the same clowns who can’t cut the budget (or, in the case of the Senate, even pass a budget) and an even more obscure decision made by the Librarian of Congress, you could be fined $50,000 and go to prison for five years.
That’s right. Eric Holder—despite his boss’ agreement with me that this is nonsense—can come thundering after you and your unlocked iPhone on behalf of a cellular carrier and put you in Gitmo. (OK, probably not Gitmo, but you never know.)
Now it might be one thing if you stole the phone.
But this is a phone that you not only paid for but honored the contract on with your original carrier.
What the hell kind of public policy is that?
I’ll tell you what it is. It is the same kind of public policy that was written by a consortium of Apple, Nokia, AT&T, and Verizon. And handed to Congressional staffers by K-Street lobbyists. And inserted in a bill without ever having been read by an elected official. Just like Obamacare.
If you ever wanted to know about the corrosive effects of allowing the foxes to guard the henhouse, this is it. Business executives lobbying for laws to enrich them and screw everyone else.
I hasten to add that I am not picking on just these companies. It is the nature of most competitive businesses that if they can use a law to enrich their own positions, they will. That’s why the government should just keep its nose out of business and avoid doing anything that has the effect of picking winners and losers.
While the public spirited Warren Buffet will suggest that it is improper for him to pay a lower tax rate than his secretary, he will also have one of his companies fight a tax increase until there’s blood all over the floor.
Steve Wynn will excoriate the President on job creation and overregulation while he uses the Clark County District Attorney’s office to collect gambling debts at his casinos in the criminal courts.
The law—and its use—creates hypocrites of us all.
But those businesses that stand to benefit from these ridiculous laws are both willing to take the chance of being called a hypocrite and the results of a little negative publicity if they are held up to public ridicule. It’s kind of like being tossed out of a ballgame for calling the umpire an obscene name. It’s considered a cost of doing business.
The obvious answer here is to have a truly free market. Copyrights are for original works of intellectual property, and patents are for genuine innovations. They were originally designed to provide incentives to be creative and innovate—not to allow companies to dictate the terms of commerce.
When I buy a phone with your software inside, I buy the right to use it as I see fit.
You shouldn’t have the right to dictate to me how or where I use it, any more than Ford Motor Company has the right to tell me I can’t speed in the F-150 they sold me.
But merely selling a phone and service isn’t enough for some executives at some companies. They have to somehow rig the system to give themselves a commercial advantage. And that would be ok if we had a choice in the matter. But instead of using their own technology, they choose to try and use the government to accomplish their goals.
And that’s wrong.
Let me be clear.
If you can accomplish what you want to in the free market, I’m all for it.
If Steve Wynn can sue someone in civil court to collect his markers, more power to him.
But just as I don’t think the threat of debtor’s prison should be allowed to be used to collect gambling markers in Las Vegas, I also don’t think a misguided copyright law should be allowed to be used to stop you from taking your paid-for iPhone from AT&T to T-Mobile.
Strangely, the Obama Administration appears to agree with me.
Photo credit: terrellaftermath