NEW YORK—It wasn’t too long ago that all that concerned magazine publishers in Washington was the Postal Rate Commission and its pesky rate hikes.

Not anymore. With the rise of the Internet and onslaught of converging of digital technologies, the number of regulatory committees and amount of legislation on Capitol Hill impacting publishers and their digital initiatives, the Magazine Publishers of America added a second day to its Magazines 24/7 conference to try and sort it all out.

“Now, we find ourselves working with IAB, Yahoo, Microsoft, Google,” said James Cregan, the MPA’s executive vice president of government affairs, said during a morning briefing at the Hearst Tower. “There are a whole new slate of players.”

Topics ranged from Google’s controversial book search (“I don’t how in the world that can be considered fair use,” said Bruce Keller, a partner in the Debevoise and Plimpton, one of the firms involved in the case) to “Net neutrality” to a fingerprinting technology that prevents users from uploading copyrighted video to “behavorial advertising”—the practice of monitoring what a Web user does online to deliver laser-targeted ads and editorial to them.


“There’s something inherently spooky about that,” said Charulata Pagar, partner, advertising, marketing and media at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips.

The Federal Trade Commission is very concerned about the practice, she said, and has made protecting consumer data its top enforcement priority in 2008.

One issue for the FTC appears to be how media companies disclose to consumers that they are collecting information for use in targeted ads. “[The FTC feels] that disclosure within privacy policy notes is insufficient,” Pagar said. People don’t understand how much information is being collected, Keller added. “We know some really dumb people surfing the Web.”

Another point of the concern hinged on the most buzzy of Web 2.0 developments for magazines: user-generated content. Are publishers liable for what users publish on their magazine sites?

So far, the law, the panelists said, has been particularly supportive of publishers. When a copyright violation occurs, publishers usually have 24 to 48 hours to take down the offending item.

But that changes when user content is edited by the magazine. Said Cynthia Bratton, VP of government affairs at McGraw-Hill: “We worry about crossing that line, in that editing this material you incur additional obligation.”

One thing magazine publishers don’t have to worry about is changes in legislation this year. “By May, [Capitol Hill] is shut down,” Jamie Houton, a consultant at Elmendorf Strategies, said. “It’s all about the elections.” Still, he expects intellectual property, commerce and privacy to be hot-button issues in 2009. “The key is to get focused now.”

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