November 19, 2012

Republicans release groundbreaking copyright reform memo; withdraw it 24 hours later


After the SOPA and CISPA debacles of the last year, no one expected that it would be the Republicans who came up with a decent proposal for much needed copyright reform.

For that reason, it was of great surprise to many when on Friday afternoon, the Republican Study Committee (RSC) — representing 160 conservative House Republicans — released a memo entitled “Three Myths about Copyright Law and Where to Start to Fix it.” (The PDF has mysteriously disappeared, but it is embedded here.) The document is a stunning rebuke to the dominate arguments of the last decades by pro-IP lobbyists in Washington, saying,

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

Also notably,

“Copyright violates nearly every tenet of laissez faire capitalism.”

The paper suggests the current regime is hampering scientific inquiry, stifling the creation of a public library, discouraging value-added industries and penalizes legitimate journalism and oversight. It advocates for limitations on statutory damages, expanding fair use (pointing out that, “right now, it’s somewhat arbitrary as to what is legally fair use based upon judicially created categories. One example: parodies are considered protected by fair use but satire is not”), and even limiting copyright terms.

It’s a paper that encapsulates, for the most part, arguments made over the last decade by legions of academics and tech advocates, who want to see the current out-dated regime overhauled.

Timothy B. Lee at Ars Technica called the memo “shockingly sensible”, and across the web, even The American Conservative wrote that the memo’s suggestions “would be a heck of a start towards making copyright actually incentivize innovation, rather than stifling it, as it most often does today.”

Any yet, twenty-four hours after it was released, the RSC’s Executive Director Paul Teller issued a statement disowning the memo for not having been subject to “adequate review”.

Of course, the internet is now alive with theories as to why the RSC would withdraw such an innovative paper. It was written by a young Republican Study Committee staffer, Derek Khanna, and Lee even ruminates that a Republican turn-around on these issues could bring them more of the youth vote in the next election. Some say that the issue and withdrawal of the paper indicates a conflict between the new and old guard of the party.

And no one appreciates the quick turnaround. As, Mike Masnick on TechDirt writes,

“The idea that this was published “without adequate review” is silly. Stuff doesn’t just randomly appear on the RSC website. Anything being posted there has gone through the same full review process. What happened, instead, was that the entertainment industry’s lobbyists went crazy, and some in the GOP folded.

… In the long run, that’s going to hurt the GOP, because the people who were suddenly interested in supporting the GOP will assume that any such effort is subject to a similar bait-and-switch.”



Ariel Bogle is a publicist at Melville House.