News & Politics

Senators Won’t Rock to Free iPods

This spring the mailbags of 12 US senators got an unusual addition—a customized video iPod worth $316.94.

The pop-culture icons were part of a campaign to raise awareness of intellectual-property issues by the Intellectual Property Action Committee.

The group’s executive director, Jake Fisher, says that the “Your Senator Needs an iPod” project was inspired by Alaska senator Ted Stevens, who received an iPod from his daughters for Christmas. At a hearing on a proposal to embed copy-preventing programs into digital audio and video players, Stevens began asking if he’d be able to transfer recorded radio programs to his new gadget.

The campaign’s logic was that if other senators had a like understanding of the iPod, maybe they would be more interested in intellectual-property rights.

The first shipment of iPods was sent to 12 senators on key committees. The devices were inscribed listen to the people and loaded with digital documents, video, and audio that are in the public domain or released under less restrictive “creative commons” licenses—from the text of the US Constitution to songs by DC’s Thievery Corporation.

The campaign met with a chilly response.

“My boss is the head of the Republican high-tech task force and is as well versed in technology as anyone on the Hill,” says Jack Finn, speaking for Senator John Ensign of Nevada.

Some senators, like target Gordon Smith, already have the ubiquitous status symbol.

And those who don’t have one aren’t looking for one.

Montana Republican Conrad Burns’s office sent the iPod back. “The senator’s a tech-savvy guy—if he wanted an iPod, he’d buy one,” says spokesperson Jason Klindt. “I’m pretty sure he gets his Hank Williams fix in his Chevy pickup truck.”

In the end, all 12 senators decided to send the iPods back. Many offices cited ethics policies as their official explanation, “pique” not being diplomatic enough.