Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

"And what's on your iPod, Mr. President?"

By Dennis D. McDonald

Last night I attended the monthly meeting of DC CopyNight at a bar within walking distance of the Gallery Place Chinatown Metro stop in Washington DC. Here’s the official description of the group:

CopyNight is a monthly social gathering of people interested in restoring balance in copyright law. We meet over drinks once a month in many cities to discuss new developments and build social ties between artists, engineers, filmmakers, academics, lawyers, and many others.

This is the second meeting I attended and I enjoyed myself immensely. (It also helped that the bar has Magic Hat on tap.)

Joseph Price from  Threespot facilitated the meeting. Also attending were folks from SPARC, Public Knowledge, Wikimedia Foundation, and Center for Democracy & Technology, among others. (If I missed your group please let me know by sending an email to

We started the evening with a discussion of the meaning of Lawrence Lessig’s recent shifting of gears to focus on political corruption.  My take on the reasons for his announcement is that he has grown tired from fighting foes who do not appear to share his values for openness and honesty in political dealings. It remains to be seen, however, whether Lessig will have success fighting what some view as the natural workings of our political system.

Then the conversation moved on to what questions about copyright and intellectual property we would like to ask Presidential candidates in a “debate” type of situation. This discussion exposed, I think, some of the the perennial difficulties we have with fostering reasonable and open public debates about intellectual property issues.

It’s hard to ask questions that make good “sound bite” opportunities. For example, consider the question, “Why can’t I copy my DVD to my iPod?” To really respond to that question would require the candidate to refer to DRM, old vs. new business models, Apple’s traditional focus on closed systems and hardware sales, DMCA, open versus closed standards, software licenses, and Fair Use.

Ouch. I can see the eyes glazing over already.

I’m not suggesting that it’s impossible to discuss intellectual property rights in understandable terms; Duke Law’s copyright comic is a prime example.  But I don’t have a lot of hope that copyright, patents, or other IP issues will become hot public  topics this political season.


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