By Ruth Vitale
RUTH VITALE: Senator Blackburn, thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed. You have been a devoted supporter of creative people and their rights. How did you come to be interested in intellectual property and copyright policy?
MARSHA BLACKBURN: Living around Nashville, you are living in the world’s greatest creative community. Singers, songwriters, musicians, and entertainers are all a part of your personal orbit. So much of what you know and learn comes through osmosis. Through my marketing business, I worked with the creative community and grew to appreciate their work. During the mid-‘90s, I led my state through the analog-to-digital transition as head of the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission. After coming to Congress in 2003, I founded the Congressional Songwriters Caucus. Protecting intellectual property rights is fundamental to protecting our creative community, and Washington needed a reminder.
RV: You represent the people of Tennessee. As a new Senator and a new member of the Senate IP Subcommittee, can you explain why copyright is important to Tennessee? Those of us who have watched your career know of your connection to your state’s creative community, but for everyone else, why is copyright particularly important for your constituents?
MB: Every book or song that is written (and in Tennessee, we write a lot of books and songs!) is protected by copyright – a vital protection that ensures writers and authors are compensated for their work. We also have video content creators, auto engineers, software developers, and other patent holders who understand the importance of copyright and patent protection. Copyright is also a constitutional guarantee – Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 has a lot to say on the matter – and as an elected official, it is my duty to protect that right.
RV: As you know, the Senate IP Subcommittee began 2020 by announcing a year-long series of hearings to assess the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 22 years after its passage. Why is it important to review this law? What parts of the law do you think most need updating?
MB: We’ve heard from many content creators about their frustration with Section 512 and the notice-and-takedown system. With the massive growth of the internet in the last two decades, the presence of unauthorized copyrighted content has rapidly proliferated. The law intended for copyright owners and service providers to cooperate to detect and remove infringing content, but the resulting notice-and-takedown system has become overly burdensome on creators trying to protect their rights. Countless takedown notices are sent to remove infringing content each year, but more illegal content appears with each takedown and there is no end in sight. This problem is particularly onerous for smaller and independent artists and creators because they often don’t have the time or resources to track cases of infringement online and adequately protect their content rights.
RV: In addition to the DMCA Hearings, both the Senate and the House have been looking at another internet safe harbor – Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Do you think it is time for Congress to reevaluate these broad immunities?
MB: Absolutely. Recently I, along with Senators Graham and Wicker, introduced the Online Freedom and Viewpoint Diversity Act to introduce accountability into our dealings with Big Tech which, as we all well know, is a notoriously opaque and unregulated industry. Until Congress 1) recognizes that we must clarify and preserve 230’s liability shield, and 2) does it in such a way that proves we understand that the internet we have now is not the internet we had back in 1996, these platforms will by default remain judge and jury over what information Americans are able to access online.
RV: Often times, Silicon Valley and Hollywood are on opposite sides of the policy debates around copyright. Do you see areas of compromise where you would encourage the two sides to cooperate and work toward solutions outside of legislation? Perhaps you could talk a bit more about your involvement in asking YouTube to make its content protection tools more widely available. You spoke eloquently at a roundtable between the creative community and YouTube in December 2019 to discuss this effort. What sort of action would you like to see from YouTube?
MB: It’s fair to say that Silicon Valley – Big Tech – and Hollywood, and the content creators, are on opposite sides of the debate about content protection and intellectual property. What Big Tech should appreciate is that good content will draw more eyeballs to their platforms. That they still resist paying creators is beyond unseemly. And yes, these platforms should make their tools and training available to creators, especially since they’re the ones driving eyeballs to platforms. Big Tech has plenty of expertise in content moderation and protection. Share it!
RV: When you’re trying to take your mind off the very difficult problems that you are tasked with solving in the Senate, do you have a favorite television show?
MB: I enjoy watching HGTV and Food Network. Past that, I love to read.