The Copyright Reform Report That Wasn’t

By Elizabeth

Last Friday, the House Republican Study Committee (RSC) released a policy brief titled “Three Myths About Copyright Law and Where to Start to Fix it,” lauded by the tech community and cause for celebration among copyright reform advocates.  Less than 24 hours later— and after what we can assume was severe backlash from the content industry—the brief was retracted, with RSC Executive Director Paul Teller issuing a statement that the memo had been “published without adequate review.”

So what gives? The paper offered a surprisingly progressive look at copyright reform from a highly influential group. The Republican Study Committee is a caucus consisting of more than 160 conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives, a majority of the party, and acts as an internal think tank for the group. Thus, an RSC endorsement of sweeping copyright reform would mark a turning point in the national copyright debate.

The report rebuts 3 “myths” of copyright law that are often asserted by the content industry:  1) that the purpose of copyright is to compensate the creator of the content; 2) that copyright is free market capitalism at work; and 3) that the current copyright legal regime leads to the greatest innovation and productivity. The paper’s author suggests several reforms, including reforming statutory damages, expanding fair use, punishing false copyright claims, and limiting the term of copyright to 12 years, with options for periodic renewals in return for increasing fees. The report offers a clear and detailed look at problems with copyright law today. It is also unequivocal. Of note is the final line: Current copyright law does not merely distort some markets — rather it destroys entire markets.

It’s safe to assume that the RSC was flooded with calls from entertainment and content industry lobbyists. An RSC spokesperson stated in an email, “This Policy Brief presented one view among conservatives on U.S. copyright law. Due to an oversight in our review process, it did not account for the full range of perspectives among our members.” Nevertheless, we’re hopeful the report (and its retraction) has raised the profile of this conversation on copyright reform and opened opportunities for action. Given its source, it’s a fascinating read and one definitely worth checking out.


Read more:  “Republican Study Committee issues, then pulls, Copyright Policy Brief,” AALL Copyright Committee Blog

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