Will Copyright Fight Draw a Crowd?

Opinion: Web sites may not be effectively recruiting supporters in the battle over copyright laws in the music and movie industries.

Can the fight to change copyright law become a full-blown consumer cause? Thats the question that arises when experienced political insiders contemplate the current rush of activity around the issue.

Its not a slam-dunk "yes" or "no." There are plenty of reasons—most recently a nice big story in The New York Times outlining grassroots efforts to change the law—to think that the issues around digital copying of music, video, movies, books and pretty much everything else might be getting some real attention.

Theres a lot of chatter on the Web about the pending Supreme Court arguments and the need to change the law, and no shortage of suggestions about how to do it.

But all that activity could be misleading. Online organizing activity—number of site visits, number of downloads, page views—can make a cause seem much larger than it is.

The idea that online awareness or interest translates into action isnt well established, but its tempting to think that the large audience numbers are a sign that things are really going to change. Measuring the difference between attention and action is trickier in the online world. Its a new phenomenon without too many established metrics.

Thats not to dismiss the work being done at sites like Downhillbattle.org. Clearly, theyre generating attention. And their cause, while nerdy, has merit (the site takes its name from its founders belief—a correct one—that their cause is easily winnable because of changes in the music business). The law penalizes technology and innovation. It needs to change.

/zimages/5/28571.gifTo read about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, click here.

A look at Downhillbattles Web site strikes a chord familiar to anyone whos spent time at MoveOn.org or even Deans Democracy for America site. They all have that "echo chamber" feel. Downhillbattle, which organized a series of meetings across the country to view "Eyes on the Prize," a documentary about the Civil Rights movement thats gone underground because of copyright licensing issues, shows a long list of screenings scheduled in U.S. college towns and the hipper neighborhoods of big cities, as well as in Paris, Vienna and Milan.

Eyeballing the demographics of the meeting sites, one concludes that chances are good that "Eyes on the Prize" viewers already know the issues involved, already support the cause, and, well, are already fired up. Thats not expanding the arguments reach. Its reinforcing it with the converted.

Next Page: Making friends and influencing people.