THE OBAMA CHIP: Can “Hope” Mean the End of Copyrights?


By Moses Avalon

As the left-leaning entertainment world parties like drunken sailors for the coming Obama administration they will simultaneously need to keep a close eye on the new guy; Obama may be dismantling copyrights under the banner of “change.” With the trade imbalance in the hundreds of billions can we afford to weaken Intellectual Property, (IP) one of the US’s largest exports?

Obama’s administration will see the creation of a new job, the CTO, Chief Technology Officer.The President Elect has created this new role to aid him in making decisions that will effect economic policy in what Obama perceives to be one of the most important industries in the US—technology.The tech world is lit up about the new CTO czar in their corner. Is there a danger to the music space? Yes.

As many of my readers know, the music (and indeed the content world in general) is at war with ISPs.As Google digitizes every book in existence for free public viewing and tech-sponsored special interest groups like the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) lobby for more relaxed copyright laws, music is gradually, day by day becoming the free toy at the bottom of the tech-world’s cereal box.Movies are next, as well as books, and who knows, maybe even sensitive blueprints.

What will the CTO do?There will be a live feed of government meetings over the net and YOU will be able to respond to new policy as they are debated. Cool. The CTO will make sure everything is plugged in and working correctly.(Remember the A/V geeks from high school?)There will also be chips in cable boxes (the Obama Chip, I guess we’ll call it) that allows parents (as well as the Fed) to monitor viewing habits. The CTO will over see that.

But there’s far more to Obama’s tech polices that are worth knowing about if you plan, as an author on navigating the digital landscape of tomorrow. And also worth noting is that Obama is not just looking for some ex-hippy college professor for CTO, he’s trolling in the upper echelon of IT heaven. He’s already asked Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer and Amazon President and CEO Jeff Bezos. They turned him down– for now.

All this would be fine if our new President had an IP specialist by his side supplying balance to ensure copyrights don’t erode. Right now the likely candidate for IP advisor is Law Professor, Lawrence Lessig, who has been advising the President Elect during his campaign.

For those who do not know Mr. Lessig’s work, if you’re a songwriter or artist now is the time to become familiar with it. He’s not exactly a fan of copyrights, at least not the way many artists think of them and he could, beginning in January have the ear of the new President;a President who has put at his other side, a powerful CTO farmed from and connected to the tech elite.

If you derive your living from IP, and you’re not worried, then you’re not paying attention.

From Wikipedia: “Lessig is a founding board member of Creative Commons, a board member of the Software Freedom Law Center and a former board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He is best known as a proponent of reduced legal restrictions on copyright, trademark and radio frequency spectrum, particularly in technology applications.”


Adding to this is the fact that IP issues will, starting next January, be elevated from the subcommittee level in the House of Representatives to that of the full Judiciary Committee.

Although tech-friendly trades have spun this as a minor victory for IP, in fact all this does is raise the stakes.Decisions made at the Congressional level are very hard to reverse and those decisions will now have a tech-bias to bolster that industry’s already formidable lobbying efforts against music and entertainment rights holders.


Whether Lessig is a copyright reformer or destroyer depends on your point of view.Thus we enter the world “copyrightists” and copyleftists,” as these terms have evolved.

“Rightists” like things the way they are: authors get to control completely how their copyrights work.They own a monopoly on its distribution.“Leftists” believe that the internet requires we re-examine the need and authority of copyrights; maybe authors shouldn’t have absolute say, and in the extreme, no say at all.

This is not unprecedented.In fact, the concept of ownership in a creative work is relatively new to civilization.Troubadours in the middle ages had no ownership over the songs they authored. Bach and Mozart also had no copyrights, yet their work survives–leftists assuage–because there were no restrictions.One thing leftists leave out of this argument is that all the above left little to nothing to their families because there was no legal infrastructure for them to exploit and protect their work.

But, leftists feel that the common good should outweigh the individual rights of the author.How does this manifest in the music space: leftists (like the EFF and blobger Bob Lefsetz) take the position that illegal P2P is fine, and that artists, labels and publishers should just grow up, chill and go with the flow.

Naturally, those that derive their living from copyrights disagree.


Obama’s new policies call for a “full and free exchange of information.”There is little room for interpretation in his wording: a free and open net is what the next president feels is best for the Nation. I wonder what acts of anger will be inspired if indeed, as this hints, IP is demoted to mere “information.”

I have a great deal of passion about wanting the Obama Nation to succeed.Does that mean that my contribution to the new and better world of “hope” must be the erosion of the laws that allow my industry to prosper?This is tough stuff for those of us with a conscience.

Mr. President Elect, if these words somehow find your eyes, I implore you, I beg you to consider your moves in this space carefully.

Bill Clinton was the socially liberal/fiscal conservative poster-child, yet he signed into law one of the worst (and most right-wing) pieces of legislation in entertainment history; one that allowed radio stations to consolidate and thus contribute to the decline of a great American tradition and industry.He meant well, but he sold out an important principal of commerce, growth through competition, not consolidation.It was mistake that I’m sure he now regrets.

Please don’t make the same one.Entertainment and copyrights aren’t just a cool thing; they represent about one-quarter of the US exports. Before you make a move Mr. President, please think hard and perhaps, read this piece called the “DRM Manifesto,” for balance.

Mo out

9 responses to “THE OBAMA CHIP: Can “Hope” Mean the End of Copyrights?”

  1. Moses Avalon says:

    Actually, I agree with much of what your post, and most of what you have written in your lucid, informative books. However, for one such as yourself, who was at the forefront, and one of the original “Weathermen” of the music wars, railing against the machine that was that same music industry (see book, “Confessions Of A Record Producer”) that you now so vehemently and conservatively protect. I kind of liked the old system as well, to a point, except for its self-serving greed, elitism, and its culture and style driven exclusionism, to the usual determent of artistic merit and value.
    Now, it is obvious that, in the realm of what’s possible, the internet and file trading is by far the best thing that has ever occurred for the indie music artist, due in large to the indy’s previous lack of access to traditional exposure via radio and mass media, marketing, and physical distribution, which was utterly monopolized by the Majors, for better or worse.

  2. Michael Huey says:


    Your writing, as well as the missives as a whole, are terrific. And, you just keep getting better and spot-on with insight.

    Thanks for doing the research, and the reporting on our business-


    J Michael Huey

  3. Spencer Sadler says:


    This Chicken Little routine doesn’t suit you, though it was an interesting read.

    The Copyright Alliance released a statement that they are “fully confident that he (Obama) will welcome the opportunity to work with both Democrats and Republicans to ensure that, just as he said in his tech policy paper, copyright owners see their rights respected and enforced both at home and abroad.

    “Copyright Alliance executive director Patrick Ross agreed with technology leaders and joined them in praising Obama’s knowledge of technology. He said that the next U.S. president has demonstrated a “clear understanding of the critical role copyright industries play in creating jobs and stimulating the economy.

    “Given the fact that he has placed improving our troubled economy as Job One for his administration, we in the Copyright Alliance are confident that his efforts will include strong copyright protection,” Ross said Wednesday. “Copyright has always been a bipartisan issue, supported broadly by Democrats and Republicans alike, as the votes approving the recent PRO-IP Act showed. The president-elect has made it clear he will be looking for opportunities to reach across party lines and build consensus, and copyright provides him an excellent opportunity to do so.”

    As you pointed out, copyright is an economical issue, and the Economy is the #1 agenda20of our new administration. Why would the Obama administration cut our own throats by dissolving copyright, even though it has been infringed upon in recent years? The answer is in their records.

    Biden became a staunch ally of Hollywood and the recording industry in their efforts to expand copyright law. He sponsored a bill in 2002 that would have make it a federal felony to trick certain types of devices into playing unauthorized music or executing unapproved computer programs. Biden’s bill was backed by content companies including News Corp. but eventually died after Verizon, Microsoft, Apple, eBay, and Yahoo lobbied against.

    As for Obama (don’t forget that he was a constitutional law scholar), along with the CTO that you mention, he will be appointing a “Copyright Czar” as Reuters put it to work alongside the CTO. The law is aimed at coordinating the anti-piracy efforts of such disparate agencies as the Department of Justice, the Patent and Trademark Office and the U.S. Trade Representative,” Anthony Bruno of Reuters wrote.

    The bottom line, Obama-Biden could be the best thing that ever happened to the music industry’s love-hate relationship with technology and the internet.

    Sometimes change is good.

    Still a huge fan and loyal reader, despite the recent melodramatics (though that’s really what keeps me reading)

    Spencer Sadler

  4. Moses Avalon says:



    I hope you’re right. But, “Chicken little?” Hardly. My piece is designed to create a response exactly like the one you had. To inspire thought about this subject.

    I know all about the Copyright Czar and the Copyright Alliance and Biden’s work as well. However if indeed Obama did a 180 and began whoring himself to the tech world it would not be the first time a president flipped to the dark side and started working for the people who financed his campaign.

    I used Clinton in my piece b/c he is a great example of the road to hell being paved with good intentions. He singed into law several pieces of legislation that on paper seemed to be good for IP, but in practice have not worked out so well. Then there is Nixon and Vietnam, Bush Sr. and BCCI, Reagan and bank deregulation. The list goes on.

    As Obama says, let us pray together. And as I say, but just in case– hire a lawyer.

  5. Moses Avalon says:


    I agree 100%, Mo, particularly as concerns your analogy with Bill Clinton and his media clustering law that led to the formation of the evil empires aka ClearChannel and Fox.

    I’m curious to see what means, financial and authoritative this new CTO will have. As for IP, perhaps now is the time for many (I already have) to register their works with a European Performance/Copyright organization like Gemma or Sacem who are quite active and politically virulent in protecting their members’ works.

    I already have.


  6. Moses Avalon says:

    Hi Moses,

    Thanks for another great and thought provoking piece.

    I’ve read a couple of Lessig’s books and agree with some aspects of what he advocates, but not all. I also think we must not confuse the authors of IP (i.e., the creators) with the owners of that IP. Each of the scenarios of the creator being the owner of IP vs. the creator not being the owner presents unique challenges and issues that only grow more complex as we move forward.

    The core of what I’ve read from Lessig expresses concern about large corporations extending the length of ownership of IP such that that lengthening inhibits innovation. I have personally witnessed this phenomenon over many years of working in some of what used to be the largest information technology companies in the world. I believe the practice not only inhibits innovation by limiting access to existing ideas, but also leads to the creation of a general culture of diminished capacity for innovation. That is why I referred to those companies as “used to be.” At one point in time these companies represented the most prolific generators of patents that existed in the market, today they are virtually dinosaurs. I, for one, believe it is because of a culture that developed over time of hording IP and a lack of capacity or desire to make it relevant in the market.

    The biggest question for me is how do we create an environment that allows the actual creators of IP to extract more value from the market for their efforts? Length of ownership plays a role in that, but it is far from a complete or holistic answer.

    I totally agree with your point that we must move very thoughtfully and carefully into this new world.

    Just a thought.


  7. Axel says:

    I agree 100%, Mo, particularly as concerns your analogy with Bill Clinton and his media clustering law that led to the formation of the evil empires aka ClearChannel and Fox.

    I’m curious to see what means, financial and authoritative this new CTO will have. As for IP, perhaps now is the time for many (I already have) to register their works with a European Performance/Copyright organization like Gemma or Sacem who are quite active and politically virulent in protecting their members’ works.

    I already have.


  8. Stephen Limbaugh says:

    Regarding radio consolidation being a negative thing, I’m not so sure that in economics “tradition” is or should be any sort of barometer…

    I think that any product of a man’s mind is his property, and that we have a system in place that is supposed to protect our right to property.

    Is Obama’s team really interested in nationalizing people’s IDEAS ?!? To me that’s really what this boils down to… they’re setting the price to zero. Once people stop being able to reap the rewards of their ideas/labor, Atlas _will_ shrug…

  9. TIGER M says:

    > Final Word

    There is something odd about change. We talk passionately about wanting it
    Until it starts to become a reality. Then a deep-rooted fear of the unknown
    Sets in as our Status Quo dissolves. We hope it’s for the better.
    -Moses Avalon

    I finished your book [3rd Edition] for the second time today. =)

    After reading this article I couldn’t help but be reminded of words in your
    Outro [book’s final chapter: Record/Pause] in 2006… now-near 3 years ago.

    “One song leads to another. Music… naturally, influences itself.
    We all “borrow” from each other…”
    Jim Peterik [Survivor / The Ideals of March]
    (Grammy-winning songwriter)

    An associate of mine and I were JUST discussing the possibility of today!
    [I won’t state his name because you probably know ’em. ^_~* *Hint* It wasn’t Jim Peterik]

    I’d no idea that already, there is movement for such a thought to become law! ^^

    I understand your concerns (and the concerns of those like-minded in the industry…)
    But you stated yourself [in Confessions…] that record companies… unless part of a
    Much larger conglamorate…

    Tend to make little… or no money annually.

    Music is the 2-dollar table.
    And is often used to promote other products
    (Often at the loss or expense of the Music Industry).

    You mentioned Mozart & Bach.
    Someone once stated that we have long-lost
    Our ‘genuine passion’ for music.

    “Lennon was the Last”
    I often hear.

    To a degree… I agree.

    Now I am not saying I agree 100-fold with this upcoming legal possibility…

    But at the same time I would think it will help to cut back on 12-year old
    Girls getting sued for singing “Happy Birthday” and deleting
    “Puff The Magic Dragon” from song books due to fear of prosecution.

    On a world scale–where the question is “How will I eat tomorrow”
    and not… OH! Brittney / 50 Cents came out with a new CD!

    I am a businessman,
    but I am an artist (and lover of art)


    I do believe that sharing music openly is a romance that
    Should not be bound-and-spanked by the S&M laws that
    “Innocent” “Abstract” and the “Pure Love” that is music can indeed be.
    (Interesting this debate should come about just now.
    “In Rainbows.” Prince’s ‘free album…’ Trent Reznor’s success with
    Saul Williams who’s ‘free music’ now is making millions for Nike.
    And the list goes on…)

    To me…
    And this is just me…

    Music is simply “True Emotion”
    Bottled-up as a genie. “The Wish”

    Is but a question of “Where Will It Go?”

    A “Marketing Tool.”
    (The toy in the box if you will)

    Not a market.
    [The Box of Cereal]

    Miley Cyrus. Eminem. Alicia Keys. MASSIVE ATTACK.

    Hell… Tiger Woods. Michael Jordan.

    None of these individuals would be recognized
    If it were “Just music” or “Just Basketball” or “Just Golf.”

    The “True Value” comes from the collective efforts of usually several facets of
    “The Entertainment Industry” as a whole including media, marketing/publishing,
    Television, Video Games and so forth].

    Copyrights or no copyrights… they’re gonna get paid.
    As will songwriters.
    As will doctors.

    You say this in so many ways in the 3rd Edition of Confessions.

    For this reason I truly do not understand your view on this ‘situation’ Mo.’ =)

    Mellow out. ^_~*

    Perhaps it’s just your…

    deep-rooted fear of the unknown.

    -TIG Out^_~*

    P.S. I like your little “Rightests” and “Leftests” theorm.
    However, I do believe that the descriptions of the two are ‘flip-flopped’

    Rights –> Fighting For Rights [No arrests and shakedowns for singing “Happy Birthday”]
    Leftests –> Fighting For Laws [Sue and lock up the bastards who sail with the Pirates!]

    Oh! So rated “ARGHHH!!!” XDD

    -TIG Out^_~*
    (Foreal this time. ^^;)

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