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GOP Committee Causes Stir by Posting, Pulling Paper on Copyright Reform

One of the big stories in the tech world this weekend was a policy brief published by the Republican Study Committee titled “Three Myths About Copyright Law and Where to Start to Fix It,” which people called “shockingly sensible” and a “watershed” paper. However, just one day after it went up, the paper suddenly vanished.

The committee’s executive director Paul S. Teller sent out this explanation:

We at the RSC take pride in providing informative analysis of major policy issues and pending legislation that accounts for the range of perspectives held by RSC Members and within the conservative community. Yesterday you received a Policy Brief on copyright law that was published without adequate review within the RSC and failed to meet that standard. Copyright reform would have far-reaching impacts, so it is incredibly important that it be approached with all facts and viewpoints in hand. As the RSC’s Executive Director, I apologize and take full responsibility for this oversight.

The same publications that had praised the paper now jumped on the committee, accusing the group of “flip-flopping,” “cowardice,” and being browbeat by Hollywood lobbyists.

So what exactly did the paper advocate? We were able to snag a copy, so you can see for yourself:

The paper attempts to dispel three myths about copyright law:

“The purpose of copyright is to compensate the creator of the content”

[…] according to the Constitution, the overriding purpose of the copyright system is to “promote the progress of science and useful arts.” In today’s terminology we may say that the purpose is to lead to maximum productivity and innovation.

This is a major distinction, because most legislative discussions on this topic, particularly during the extension of the copyright term, are not premised upon what is in the public good or what will promote the most productivity and innovation, but rather what the content creators “deserve” or are “entitled to” by virtue of their creation. This lexicon is appropriate in the realm of taxation and sometimes in the realm of trade protection, but it is inappropriate in the realm of patents and copyrights.

“Copyright is free market capitalism at work”

Copyright violates nearly every tenet of laissez faire capitalism. Under the current system of copyright, producers of content are entitled to a guaranteed, government instituted, government subsidized content-monopoly. It is guaranteed because it is automatic upon publishing.

“The current copyright legal regime leads to the greatest innovation and productivity”

With no copyright protection, it was perceived that there would be insufficient incentive for content producers to create new content – without the ability to compensate them for their work. And with too much copyright protection, as in copyright protection that carried on longer than necessary for the incentive, it will greatly stifle innovation. In addition, excessive copyright protection leads to what economists call “rent-seeking” which is effectively non-productive behavior that sucks economic productivity and potential from the overall economy.

The paper suggests a number of possible ways to reform copyright law, including rethinking statutory damages (doling out punishment according to the law rather than based on actual damages), expanding and clarifying fair use, creating harsher punishments for false copyright claims, and limiting copyright duration and making renewal less attractive.

Canada recently passed a landmark copyright reform law — could the United States be moving toward one as well? This is one case that photographers should keep a close eye on, since it may have a big impact on your ability to protect your photos and pursue copyright infringers.


P.S. For more on this story, check out this article by TechDirt, which broke the story, and this second one published after the paper was pulled.