Congress Kicks Off Copyright Hearings

By Elizabeth Holland, Public Policy Associate

Following up on House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s April announcement to undertake a comprehensive review of copyright law, the Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Subcommittee held its first hearing yesterday. Titled “A Case Study for Consensus Building: The Copyright Principles Project,” the hearing featured five witnesses who had participated in the three-year Copyright Principles Project (CPP):

  • Jon Baumgarten, retired Proskauer Rose attorney, former General Counsel of the U.S. Copyright Office, and noted litigator on copyright matters, including music and movie issues
  • Laura Gasaway, Professor, University of North Carolina Law School, co-chair of the Section 108 Study Group, and AALL past president
  • Daniel Gervais, Director, Vanderbilt Law School Intellectual Property Program, with a focus on international issues
  • Pam Samuelson, Professor, University of California at Berkeley Law School, and convener of the CPP
  • Jule Sigall, Assistant General Counsel for Copyright, Microsoft and former Associate Register for Policy and International Affairs of the U.S. Copyright Office

The CPP concluded its work in 2010 with a 68-page report of recommendations for copyright reform. Though certainly not without disagreement, Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) touted the CPP’s work as a starting place for the conversation on copyright. He also made clear that the committee is “not in a rush” to focus on specifics in copyright reform without first fully understanding the fundamentals of copyright.

In his opening statement, Rep. Goodlatte stated that he is particularly interested in the following questions:

  • How do we measure the success of copyright and what metrics are used?
  • How do we ensure that everyone’s voice is heard?
  • How is copyright working for individual artists?
  • How is copyright working for our nation’s economy?

You can find the written testimonies of the witnesses available online. AALL past president Lolly Gasaway used her time to make a compelling case for libraries, museums, and archives, focusing on three areas for reform: 1) Total revision of the Copyright Act to make it flexible and technology neutral; 2) Repeal Sec. 108 and rely on Sec. 107; and 3) Enact and update the Sec. 108 Study Group recommendations, particularly focused on orphan works and mass digitization.

During the course of questioning, Subcommittee Chairman Howard Coble (R-NC) asked all witnesses to identify their top priorities for copyright reform. Notably, all five witnesses named orphan works as a priority issue. Other priorities included Section 108, statutory damages, licensing structure, and reformalization. Surprisingly, at no point during the course of the hearing was the topic of shortening copyright terms discussed. In response to a question by Rep. Suzan Delbene (D-WA) on the changes in copyright since the 2010 report, the panel noted the role of the courts on fair use and public dissemination, particularly in the Second Circuit. Witness Jule Sigall, Assistant General Counsel for Copyright Microsoft Corporation, noted the decision in Kirtsaeng v. Wiley as an “unpredictable” change in the copyright discourse since the 2010 CPP report. Others noted the proliferation of mass digitization projects as a predictable but important change

Other interesting discussion focused on barriers in copyright for students and faculty. Gasaway noted that while law schools’ licenses with Thomson Reuters and Lexis enable access to law texts, multimedia resources are not always available to students, nor do smaller institutions or public libraries have licenses.

At various points, members of the committee expressed disappointment at the exclusion of “creators” from the CPP, though Subcommittee Chairman Howard Coble (R-NC) noted that the committee will receive testimony from creators in hearings in the months ahead.

The Chairman did not specify a timeline for future hearings but it seems it will be an exciting few months ahead. Stay tuned to this space and AALL’s Copyright Committee blog for updates.

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