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FTC Wants To Straighten Out IP Law 97

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-and-what-army dept.
coondoggie writes with this excerpt from NetworkWorld: "What do you get when you mix the government, the court system, company lawyers and Joe Consumer? A serious mess that would send most people screaming into the night. But the Federal Trade Commission is no such entity. It wants to straighten Intellectual Property (IP) out and today said it will hold a series of hearings — the first in Washington, DC on Dec. 5 — it will use to examine IP law and the myriad issues surrounding it. Interested bigwigs from the tech industry, including Cisco, Yahoo and the Computer & Communications Industry Association are expected to testify along with professors, lawyers and other industry players. The patent system has experienced significant change and more changes are under consideration, the FTC said." The FTC held some different, but related hearings this week which addressed topics such as copyright law and DRM interoperability. Transcripts, podcasts, and summaries of the talks are available on the FTC-hosted "Protecting Consumers in the Next Tech-ade" site.
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FTC Wants To Straighten Out IP Law

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  • BOHICA? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I sure hope the industry isn't colluding here and the government is looking out for our interests...

    vc: buyers

    • One way to tell... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by CarpetShark (865376) on Sunday November 09, 2008 @01:58PM (#25695527)

      Do you see any mention of asking every day citizens whether they want to be able to copy a song from their friend? If not, it'll go industry's way.

      • by DannyO152 (544940)
        Set to meet before the current administration leaves? Feels like a grease the wheels situation to me.
      • by janrinok (846318)
        Why on earth should they ask if people want to copy a file from a friend? Do you believe that you have some inherent right to do such a thing? I'm not getting into the theft/piracy debate but, if you haven't paid for it, then I don't see that you have any 'right' to have a copy of it. Now, if you had paid for it but it wouldn't let you play it on your computer then I would be standing right next to you and supporting you with all my might, but that does not appear to be what you are complaining about.
        • well go back a bit and the given was that imaginary things were imaginary and so not subject to any of that kind of crap, of course now with more and more people being paid good money to make imaginary things it makes sense to pretend they're like solid objects.
          I could equally ask where someone elses inherent right to stop me from saying something to my friend, writing something down and giving it to my friend, playing a song and giving a copy to my friend comes from since IP law makes it illegal to do thos

        • by rohan972 (880586)

          Do you believe that you have some inherent right to do such a thing?

          Yes. Copying is inherent to our nature, from our life springing from the copying of DNA, to learning to walk by copying, learning to talk by copying, learning everything by copying really.

          Copying is a natural right. Copyright is a social contract. The contract is:
          (1) Publics obligation: Temporarily give up the right to copy in order to produce an incentive to create.
          (2) Creators obligation: Deliver those created works to the public domain (available to be copied).

          The same for patents. See the US C

  • by dada21 (163177) <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Sunday November 09, 2008 @11:57AM (#25694663) Homepage Journal

    When did it go gay?

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Joce640k (829181)

      Right after they allowed software patents.

      • It was in the closet for much longer then that.

      • Actually, I think lengthening the term of copyright by the CTEA in the 90s was when IP law finally up and moved to San Francisco.

        It came out when copyright was extended beyond 28 years with a 28-year optional extension. It may have realized its sexual proclivities when the term was lengthened to the 28/28 scheme.

    • Re:Straighten out? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 09, 2008 @12:00PM (#25694677)

      When Mickey Mouse was allowed to decide the duration of copyright.

  • s/Consumers/Corporations/g

    • by aproposofwhat (1019098) on Sunday November 09, 2008 @12:32PM (#25694871)

      It really depends upon who turns up from the corporations - if the IP lawyers have their say, then expect crazy software and business process patents to be favoured.

      If the CFOs and CTOs are involved, then the debate may be more balanced - fighting stupid patent cases as a cost of doing business can't be attractive for the beancounters, and the technical guys are more likely to appreciate how ludicrous the idea of patenting an algorithm is.

      This could turn out to be a good thing - the fact that it is being debated at all is encouraging.

      • Don't be so sure. Far more people in [usually software] industry hate software patents than you think. It's kind of a collective action problem, in that each company has to grab as many (quantity is really all that matters) patents in the hope it can protect itself against frivolous lawsuits and trade use of its own patents for that of others.

        It's often seen as a defensive measure. If you could just eliminate software patents once and for all I agree some industry people would be against it, but it wouldn't

  • Who wants to bet (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SirLurksAlot (1169039) on Sunday November 09, 2008 @12:02PM (#25694697)
    that consumers and fair use get the short end of the stick at these hearings?
    • by Overzeetop (214511) on Sunday November 09, 2008 @12:07PM (#25694725) Journal

      Right from the summary:

      Interested bigwigs from the tech industry, including Cisco, Yahoo and the Computer & Communications Industry Association are expected to testify along with professors, lawyers and other industry players

      I don't see a mention of consumers, and since consumers don't pay for lawyers (except the few who defend IP suits) or professors (who's salaries are paid for by "research grants" from corporations), it sounds like this can only end in tears.

      • by Znork (31774)

        From an economic perspective it's most appropriate to view IP as various forms of delegated taxation rights (which, not entirely coincidentally, isn't far from their historic use).

        And as such, their tendency to grow to consume ever more of the economic output is hardly surprising; imagine putting the beneficiaries of any other taxation scheme in charge of the rates and revenue, without having to ever justify the cost.

        • by ColdWetDog (752185) * on Sunday November 09, 2008 @01:25PM (#25695299) Homepage

          imagine putting the beneficiaries of any other taxation scheme in charge of the rates and revenue, without having to ever justify the cost.

          Don't worry. They're just having committee hearings. These put two of the most useless concepts in human behavior (committee, meeting) together in one room. It's carefully designed so nothing of substance gets done.

          That's for the little get together in the bar after the meeting.

          • Where only the corporates are invited. Not to imply that the average professor would necessarily be any better.

          • You left out government, add that in the mix and now we definitely don't have progress, but can expect our taxes to go up.

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Actually, professors salaries are paid by research grants from the government, usually the DoD. And those same professors benefit the most from not having to use their diddly research grants on expensive proprietary technology; they risk those grants when they use cracked software. And seeing as those professors, last I checked, are the ones who are most avidly fighting the war on Imaginary Property, I might wonder why you're busy trying to piss them off. From Lawrence Lessig to Yochai Benkler to Richard

        • At my school, a good rule of thumb is that CS profs hate patents as much as a /.er but EE profs love them and most others see them as good but irritating.

          But just like with climate change, it's easy for the gvmt to hire "professors" that profess just about anything, for the right price.

      • Law professors typically don't have research grants--legal research is a different entity from regular university research. And their salaries are typically huge (a comfortable six figures is standard) and paid for by universities.

        At least, that is true at my tier 1 school.

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      I'm waiting for the stick vs pitchfork thing
    • by blair1q (305137)

      That depends on who talks to the people on the board.

      If you want it done your way, tell them.

      Otherwise, you're allowing others to define your legal system for you.

  • Is there any way this can turn out well for the consumer?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by narcberry (1328009)

      Yes actually. I'm quite surprised so many people have been naysaying this situation. But honestly, when else have we had the decision-makers from the government, big business, and the best IP lawyers in the same location at the same time?

      Any other bits of space debris scheduled to land during that time?

      • But honestly, when else have we had the decision-makers from the government, big business, and the best IP lawyers in the same location at the same time?

        That's what worries me.

  • by tkrotchko (124118) * on Sunday November 09, 2008 @12:16PM (#25694767) Homepage

    One of the three big lies is "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you".

    I'd remind you that every time the government gets involved in IP law at every level, it ends up worse for consumers. Every time. So you should be scared when you see this. We'll end up like crazy canadian laws where an entrenched monopoly gets a tax on anything that poses a threat to that monopoly (taxes on ipods, black CD's, and likely ISP taxes).

    And that isn't the worst thing that could happen. The monopolies will be pushing for chips inside devices that can "tell" when media isn't authorized. In the name of helping the people of course.

    I realize I'm giving worst case scenarios here, but ask yourself this... Is the FTC likely to say "Goodness, none of the current laws are very consumer friendly, therefore, copyright/patent will be reduced in time and scope, there can be no more DRM, and people should be able to use music and video wherever they want, whenever they want". Won't happen, because the FTC doesn't have the authority to make it better. They do have the authority to make things *worse* for consumers though in terms of mandates and taxes.

    No thanks.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 09, 2008 @12:22PM (#25694807)

      We'll end up like crazy canadian laws where an entrenched monopoly gets a tax on anything that poses a threat to that monopoly (taxes on ipods, black CD's, and likely ISP taxes).

      We have a levy on blank CDs, but nothing on iPods or internet service. I imagine many of us view the levy on CDs as a loophole of sorts that allows us to share as many songs as we want without any legal repercussions.

      • by Compholio (770966) on Sunday November 09, 2008 @12:44PM (#25694959)

        We have a levy on blank CDs, but nothing on iPods or internet service. I imagine many of us view the levy on CDs as a loophole of sorts that allows us to share as many songs as we want without any legal repercussions.

        What about those that purchase CDs for other legitimate means? I haven't burned music to a CD in years (on the order of a decade). Why should I have to pay a music tax on blank CDs that I'm only ever going to be using to distribute Linux?

        • by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki&gmail,com> on Sunday November 09, 2008 @03:29PM (#25696251) Homepage

          Why should I have to pay a music tax on blank CDs that I'm only ever going to be using to distribute Linux?

          You shouldn't. However a great number of people in countries with a levy system against recordable media, HDD's and such have already decided that if they're being treated as a criminal they may as well be a criminal; and use the system to their advantage. Myself I'm against the mass-criminalization of society by something plenty of people do, nothing is gained except point out how broken or out of touch the law or government is.

          20 years ago, no one really cared if you were out passing your mix tapes around. Now hell or high water it's the end of the world if you download an mp3.

          • by tepples (727027)

            20 years ago, no one really cared if you were out passing your mix tapes around. Now hell or high water it's the end of the world if you download an mp3.

            There's a difference of scale. Passing mix tapes took more labor per copy and was more limited in geographic scope than passing MP3s over the Internet is.

            • by Mashiki (184564)

              There's a difference of scale. Passing mix tapes took more labor per copy and was more limited in geographic scope than passing MP3s over the Internet is.

              A small one. I remember when I think it was Sony sold a 4 cassette dubber for people who had this hobby, for personal use of course. It was reasonably priced and all that, in the end you're spending 30mins/side maybe 60mins if got some really fancy tapes and weren't using something like chromium.

              But I remember even as young as I was 'home recording is killing the music industry'.

            • The more significant difference is that the distribution of mix tapes is far harder to track than the distribution of MP3s over the Internet.
            • This is why it should be legal to rob banks, when significant effort has been applied. But only your local banks, of course.

    • by Shelled (81123) on Sunday November 09, 2008 @12:43PM (#25694943)

      "So you should be scared when you see this. "

      Maybe. The FCC spent the last two administrations catering to every whim of broadcast media owners. Clear Channel wouldn't exist in its present form without their helping, deregulating hand. Broadcasters hate the extra fiscal burden of IP, so this may be a case in which consumers benefit as a side effect of catering to large corporation. Irrelevant but lucky.
      How a federal body with an original mandate to regulate broadcast spectrum has any authority over IP law is another question.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Ken_g6 (775014)

        How a federal body with an original mandate to regulate broadcast spectrum has any authority over IP law is another question.

        I'm not sure about the FCC either; but the FTC has some authority over interstate commerce.

      • by twakar (128390)
        That's because you're thinking of the FCC : Federal Communications Commission, when TFA actually speaks of the FTC: Federal Trade Commission. Acronym hell will do it to you every time
      • by uhlume (597871)

        Federal Trade Commission — FTC, not FCC. And this is well within their purview.

  • Let the lobbying begin. Money, spin, and rhetoric ftw.
  • That's what I'd bet on if I was a betting man. Give geeks and little false hope, then just totally screw them over with even more cumbersome intellectual "property" laws.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Does anyone else think that they're trying to get these hearings through before the next administration to make sure it goes through under this extremely corporate lobbyist-friendly administration?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by DKP (1029142)
      yes
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      the last i checked the democrats were much more likely to side with the corporations on ip concerns. do a bit of research instead of coming off like a cheap punk.

      or do you really think that everything the democrats do is in favor of the small guy? please don't tell me you're that foolish.
  • by erroneus (253617) on Sunday November 09, 2008 @12:35PM (#25694891) Homepage

    "Defensive IP" is designed to be used as part of a counter-suit in the event that one big company sues another over IP infringement. This eventually gave birth to "IP Holding" companies whose primary purpose is to sue people over IP infringement and they are ultimately immune to counter-suits because they don't actually use or apply IP... just collect money from claims, settlements and law suits.

    The problem with IP is that is has become an industry in and of itself.

    And by IP, I mean copyrights and patents.

    • by Nick Ives (317)

      Surely the problem is just patents? If you violate someone's copyright it means you've taken their work and are using it to make money yourself, if you violate their patent it just means you've only taken their idea.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by erroneus (253617)

        CLAIMS of Copyright infringement, even when fair use rules are clearly applicable, is a very large problem.

  • But at least they are discussing it. Although in all likeliness this will just result in more gov kowtow'ing to business interests, there at least exists the possibility that some progress may be made. Better to have it happen in the open and in the presence of the opposing side than snuck 150 pages deep in a friendly named/scary inside bill rushed through congress.
    • by LingNoi (1066278)

      No, nothing that harms industry is going to come out of this, I only see bad things for consumers.

      For example, do you honestly think the government is going to turn around to businesses and say "We're getting rid of software patents, now all those millions you have invested are useless, but thanks for the cash".

  • I doubt if the FTC intends to abolish it altogether, and that's the only egalitarian way to "straighten out" this collection of wealth-concentrating tactics. Too bad the general population is too unaware, uneducated, and distracted with their nine-to-fives and other minutia to even know or care how they're being disadvantaged by it. It's mostly the very same minority who stands to gain from it, in one fashion or another, which has any real influence to its existence. That's why IP law exists in the first

  • I wonder: did they invite people like Cory Doctorow [locusmag.com]?
    Did they invite people like Eric Flint [teleread.org]?

    Or are they only going to listen to voices from the dark side [mafiaa.org], the side that believes culture was invented to make big companies rich and where "non-commercial" is a profanity?

  • StupidIPLaws > /dev/null

    I'm sure that there will be plenty of lobbying to keep the laws that screw the little people, and lock people into paying and paying to keep defunct business models in operation. I don't hold out any hope of any "sorting" happening.

  • A good story for a M.C. Shampoo comment.

    Haven't had my first pot of coffee yet this morning... can't think of anything just yet.

  • Yahoo and the Computer & Communications Industry Association are expected to testify along with professors, lawyers and other industry players

    That'd be you, me, and anyone else who keeps it going through consumerism (not used in a negative sense). Without us providing the driving need for the innovations that 'require' patents, there would be no need for any IP system at all. (And the "wants to hear your comments via a form" doesn't really qualify to me.)

  • by wikinerd (809585) on Sunday November 09, 2008 @02:07PM (#25695599) Journal

    Some people want to keep copyright, and for them the copyright law is good. Some other people want to share, but for them there is no law that supports them. Public domain does not exist in all jurisdictions, and in these countries that it exists it is too vague how one can place something into the public domain, plus in some countries it is impossible to give away some rights such as moral rights or the right to get credit. The laws are made with copyright in mind, without contemplating the possibility of someone wanting to share freely.

    In most jurisdictions copyright is assigned to the author by default when a work is created, even before publication. Thus, no one can copy legally without having a licence from the author. But writing and giving licences is not always easy: the author has to think about such things as disclaimers, etc. Today there are standard licences such as GPL that we can use, but it was not always so easy. Plus I see no reason why anyone should be forced to write or attach a licence in their words in order to escape from the evils of copyright. Licences such as GPL are good, but very soon we run into problems like being unable to share with people choosing a licence of the same spirit but with different words, such as CC-By-SA or even GFDL.

    Recognising that there are two groups of people, one group wanting copyright and the other group wanting to share, and believing that a government must accomodate both groups, I think governments should maintain two sets of laws: copyright for the control freaks, and copyleft for the sharers.

    With a copyleft legal framework, one could write some code or a book and just say Copyleft (CL) 2008. No licence required: the law will take care of that, and if the governments prepare their laws after an international meeting like the Berne Convention the laws will be compatible in all jurisdictions. This helps the sharers without doing any harm to existing or future copyright owners (except if you consider free competition a bad thing). Control freaks will still be able to say Copyright (CR) 2008 for their software or books etc to signal that their creation is to be treated with the copyright rather than the copyleft law.

    If governments ever do that, there will probably be some fight between control freaks and sharers regarding what the default law will be. Currently copyright is applied automatically. If a copyleft law is added to the legal framework, will everything be considered copyrighted unless it has a Copyleft (CL) 2008 notice? Or should we consider copyleft the default law and only apply copyright to whatever has a Copyright (CR) 2008 notice? That will be a question in the case a copyleft law is introduced somewhere. Another question will be whether the copyleft law should be real copyleft as in GPL/GFDL or permissive non-copyleft as in ISCL/BSDL/X11L. We could perhaps have three legal frameworks: copyright, copyleft, and permissive.

    The current laws make it very easy to keep control over one's creations. You don't have to write a licence to have copyright, but you do have to write (or choose) a licence to enjoy copyleft. And choosing a licence is not an easy task because of licence proliferation: there are many licences to choose from, with subtle but important differences, and for many of them if you make an initial choice it will be difficult to change the licence, especially for massive collaborative works with no copyright assignment.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by chkn0 (773790)
      I don't trust congress to be able to define copyleft correctly. RMS agonizes over whether the FSF has done it correctly, and his heart is in it. Boiling this task down to a yea/nay vote for 535 people who have so many other issues they're supposed to be up-to-date on that many decisions go to whichever party can purchase more of the congressperson's ear time sounds like a recipe for disaster.
      • A law also nails copy-left into a certain shape. Unless you want to be forced to choose between GPL and BSD style licenses, or risk having GPL redefined to be the same as the LGPL, this seems a bad idea (though less licenses in general might still be nice... I still don't get why more than 3 are needed)

      • Boiling this task down to a yea/nay vote for 535 people who have so many other issues they're supposed to be up-to-date on that many decisions go to whichever party can purchase more of the congressperson's ear time sounds like a recipe for disaster.

        You've just described the problem with representative government in a nutshell.

    • The laws are made with copyright in mind, without contemplating the possibility of someone wanting to share freely.

      Absolutely and utterly false. Anyone wanting to share freely simply chooses not to enforce their copyright. This system already exists. "Copyleft" is nothing more than a copyright license.

      Plus I see no reason why anyone should be forced to write or attach a licence in their words in order to escape from the evils of copyright.

      No one is forced. You're free to attach no license at all to your works and spread them into the wind.

      I think governments should maintain two sets of laws: copyright for the control freaks, and copyleft for the sharers.

      They already do. It's called copyright. You are not proposing a change, except for the statutory codification of some form of copyright license, which apart from being totally unnecessary also introduces the problem

      • by wikinerd (809585)

        Anyone wanting to share freely simply chooses not to enforce their copyright

        That's not the correct way to share: the law gives the author the ability to sue people who infringe on their copyright, and infringement is defined as lack of licence. Therefore, if one shares their creations with no licence attached, they can at any time change their mind and sue. Users know this, and are afraid to use copyrightable works that carry no explicit licence.

        • That's not the correct way to share: the law gives the author the ability to sue people who infringe on their copyright

          Choosing not to enforce and lack of license are two separate matters. You can decline copyright by abandonment or by intentional ceding to the public domain. You can also reserve all the rights and just not use them against users, with or without an implicit or explicit license. You can further just lose the right to sue by inaction or by failure to register the works.

          None of these is "incorrect" or "correct". They are all valid possibilities that may be implemented by the creator of a work.

          and infringement is defined as lack of licence.

          Lack of lice

          • by wikinerd (809585)

            Users do not refrain from using copyrighted works, regardless of the license.

            Depends what you mean when you say user. I make a distinction between user and luser. Maybe you have lusers in mind. I talk about real users. It is illegal to use a copyrighted work without a licence, so users don't do that. To tell you an example, research how confused everyone was with djbdns before it was made public domain. You can learn more about the huge problems users face when confronted with licence-free software by reading this article [wikipedia.org].

            • Bernstein's work was never a source of legal confusion. The software wasn't license-free at all. It lacked a license agreement, but it did not lack a license. The fundamental error in the argument and in those "confused" is that a license is what constitutes a license. Bernstein's fundamental error is that modification is not a right possessed by copy owners under the statutory license. It is not possible to be in possession of software acquired lawfully and be without license. If the terms of a licen

  • If the FTC really wanted to fix the mess surrounding copyright it'd give copyright the same term length as patents, 20 years.

    The explosion of innovation coming from that simple act would likely generate so much economic activity, it could offset the losses from the current credit crisis.

    • by Xaria (630117)

      It's patents that are affecting innovation, not copyright! Copyright stops people from copying things exactly. Patents stop people from copying ideas. Software patents in particular last way too long - by the time they are out of patent they are practically useless.

      • by WCLPeter (202497)

        Actually you're only part right.

        Copyright *does* stop you from making exact copies of an idea. It also stops you from making derivative works or, works inspired by the original concept.

        Unlike patents which expire after 20 years, copyright lasts close to 100 years. If the work in question isn't a work for hire and the copyright rests with the original author it becomes the longer life of the author plus 70 years.

        With copyright protections being so skewed towards the copyright holder, an idea inspired by so

  • By putting such a hearing at the end of a lame duck presidency, and an extremely corporate friendly one at that, they're guaranteeing jobs for the current set of bureaucrats for at least another six months, even if the new president thinks they're all worthless and should be canned. They're looking for new work to do in the new adminstration, and expanding their existing bureaucracy to 'organize' the existing mess.

    If they had a chance of discarding the existing software patent and current ludicrous copyrigh

    • I think the only option is another branch of government headed by a CIP and supported by, at the very least, a staff of 12,000. Their roles are not yet defined, but we'll figure out something for them to do after we're done hiring.

      I hope you can understand the dire times we live in, and that America needs your support as we make these changes. Thanks for the taxes.

  • If they really want to fix the law, the solutions are simple: -Bring back a realistic time expiration limitations(25 years should be plenty, with 35 at max), with software patents getting a very short time span (5-10 years). *this is the BIGGEST problem with patents* -Start increasing the costs of patents for those who get a lot, this would limit companies getting thousands of patents and from patenting everything under the sun. -set a date that the company must have a working prototype of a patented it
  • by Anonymous Coward

    >> The FTC held some different, but related hearings this week which addressed topics such as copyright law and DRM interoperability. Transcripts, podcasts, and summaries of the talks are available on the FTC-hosted "Protecting Consumers in the Next Tech-ade" site.

    Uh, no, these public hearings are from November 2006.

  • They can come up with whatever they want, make rules everyone can live with, and be in complete agreement with every fine point. Then Congress will scoop up their lobbyist money and ban it all with another DMCA revision. Don't people know this by now? Protecting Consumers? LOL
  • wouldn't the easy way to fix this be to charge someone a yearly fee to keep a copyright active, with maybe the first 5 years free. and increase the fee by a significant amount each decade? That way greedy bastards get to keep Micky Mouse locked up forever, but might release older stuff that's not showing a profit and is now COSTING them money to hold onto.

    Over time everything not making money goes into public domain, keeping both sides relatively happy.

    I'd have the Library of Congress be the final decider o

  • Personally, I find the articles attached to this about "as clear as mud". That is politics. Maybe there is presently a mandate to protect DRM, but its very divided by nation-state. I bet dollars to donuts (even money) that the mandate will be retracted before it becomes law. Politics as usual. There are so many loopholes in such laws. I may get sued in some nations if I were to port an effective DRM-stripper to Windows. (No I don't make ports for Windows -- That is for beginners.) If put out a Windows port

  • We the People. Seriously, why should industry leaders be there at all? If it's the FTC, a federal entity, they should be convening a conference of constituents or their elected representatives.

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