In the last week of March, the Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA) took to Capital Hill to meet with members of Congress about SOPA, PIPA and other issues that effect gamers and game developers. The trip was spearheaded by ECA President, Hal Halpin, VP, Jennifer Mercurio and Advocacy Manager, Brett Schenker. I had the opportunity to come, along with James Portnow of Extra Credits and Trevor and Josh Hughes of Add A Tudez Entertainment. Coming out of it, I think the event was very much a success.
While SOPA was one of the primary focuses of our various discussions, we did have some time to talk about other issues that effect gamers and game developers. So rather than just file down through everything that happened, what I would like to do is share a few things that really stuck with me after the event.
On the topic of SOPA, we had some very good discussions with the offices of key members of the SOPA opposition. These was a staff member from Zoe Lofgren‘s office, Representative Jared Polis, and a staff member of Jason Chaffetz‘s office. The discussions we had about SOPA were very encouraging. Each person we talked to expressed their desire to continue the fight against SOPA like legislation. They all expected it to come back in some form or another, so they want us all to be aware and keep watch. They know that it was the efforts of the wider internet community that made the difference back in January.
On to the subject of PIPA, the Senate’s version of SOPA, the only player from this side of the debate that I had the opportunity to visit with was a staff member of Senator Tom Coburn‘s office. If you recall, Senator Coburn was one of the supporters of PIPA prior to the January protests. Right around the time of the protest, he pulled his support for the bill. This was a major blow against the bill, as Coburn sits on the Technology Subcommittee. Based on the discussion we had, it would seem that Coburn pulled his support because he did not fully appreciate what was in the bill. The conversation was primarily a fact finding mission from his office. They wanted to know more about piracy and how it affects game consumers and game developers big and small. In the future, I think we could probably count on Senator Coburn to be a voice of reason in the debate.
Now onto some other points of interest.
Back in Representative Lofgren’s office, one of the topics that came up was a general reform of copyright, particularly revolving around the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). We were asked what we would want to see happen with the DMCA and copyright to bring it back into balance with the public. One of the key points was reform of the DMCA takedown process. Right now, this process is very much weighted against fair use and free speech. There is also very little in the way of discouraging abuse of the process. Based on the conversation we had, I would hope to see some reforms being introduced in the near future. Of course, like any reform of copyright that is not 100% in favor of large entertainment companies, this type of reform will be fought hard by the MPAA and the RIAA. So when we do see it introduced, we need to show our support for it in much the same way we showed our opposition to SOPA.
The next really interesting bit of discussion came while visiting with Representative Chaffetz’s office. While we were talking about SOPA and other issues, Chaffetz’s staffer told us a story that recently happened on Capital Hill. Nintendo was there, presumably about the recent DMCA anti-circumvention exceptions approval process. As you may recall, one of the exceptions asked for this year is the ability to jailbreak a game console to allow for extra functionality to run on it. Nintendo was there showing off how DS carts like the R4 work and trying to explain how evil they are. While they were showing it off, Chaffetz’s staffer was looking at it and thought it was a pretty neat device. He then asked Nintendo’s reps if they have similar functionality available legitimately for the handheld. When asked that, Nintendo’s reps looked at him as if he asked them something completely insane. Our conversation with the Staffer then went on about how jailbreaking and things like the R4 allow for so much more than just piracy. Things like homebrew software, other operating systems, importing games and format shifting legally owned games are all possible. This really interested the staffer. So while we still don’t know if we will get an exception for jailbreaking game consoles, we now know just how much effort console companies are putting in to put a stop to it.
So those are the most interesting things that I got to participate in. There was another set of visits that I didn’t get to attend that probably have their own cool things discussed, as there were two teams holding meetings. Perhaps James, Josh or Trevor will have something to share from their points of view. I think the trip was fun and very much worth it. When the ECA plans another one, I hope to be able to attend that one as well.