February 8, 2005

The PR of IP

An article by Tom Zeller in yesterday’s NYTimes sheds new light on some of the more significant PR hurdles that both parties in the Grokster Supreme Court Case inevitably face. The recording industry’s PR plight has been evidenced for some time now, as they face the task of winning sympathy from a public that is wary of corporate interests while also fronting an anti-piracy campaign that risks targeting some of their biggest customers. However, those who represent the P2P companies (in this case the EFF is representing StreamCast Networks) face some equally daunting PR challenges that are less apparent. Namely, how can they educate the average consumer about threats to fair use when the practical parameters are necessarily so vague? How will they make the argument that placing limits on P2P might stifle innovationsin utero, when we don’t yet know how to weigh the potential benefits of those developing technologies?

Zeller’s article cites Pew Internet data that suggests both sides might face an uphill battle in conveying their messages to the public:

Whether any of these messages is getting through is an open question. Survey data from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a nonprofit research group in Washington, show that among those who actively download music, 58 percent still say they do not care if the material is copyright protected.

Among the general public, 57 percent say they are unfamiliar with concepts like “fair use” – the kernel of copyright law that allows people to copy protected materials under certain conditions, and which digital rights groups contend has been inappropriately constricted by the recording and film industries.

Beyond the general public, the Project has also seen that even artists find fair use to be a difficult concept to grasp. In a callback survey of self-identified artists from 2003, the project found that 48% of artists said they were “not familiar at all” with the fair use portion of copyright law.