November 21, 2012

FORGET THE FISCAL CLIFF: How About Copyright Reform?

“The bad news for the movie studios and record companies is that the discussion about how to make copyright law make sense in a digital age has already started in Washington, and it will continue, with our without them,” Gigi Sohn, an attorney and president and co-founder of the public policy non-profit Public Knowledge, wrote in her blog.

Indeed, Public Knowledge and others advocating for change to the copyright system have at least one ally in Congress. Rep. Darell Issa, who sits on the Judiciary Committee and its Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet Subcommittee, wrote on his Twitter account Monday that the report was a “very interesting copyright reform proposal” and “It’s time to start this copyright reform conversation.”

The Congressman, who emerged as a leader on issues related to Internet rights earlier this year when he opposed the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), has already said he plans to make digital rights a priority in the new Congress.

Internet and tech-savvy activists ardently opposed SOPA, which was aimed at foreign websites that violate U.S. copyright laws. They said the law was overly broad and would hamper online speech. They also want to see changes made to current copyright law, including some of those proposed in the Republican report that officially no longer exists.

The report, written by a young RSC staffer named Derek Khanna, is highly critical of the current copyright system, which it says “violates nearly every tenet of laissez-faire capitalism” and gives content producers a “government subsidized content-monopoly.”

It starts by describing the original constitutional purpose of copyright protection and argues that the current system has veered away from the intent. It says the law as it stands favors content creators instead of focusing on the public good or what will promote the most productivity and innovation.

By the way, Rob Merges and I wrote a piece on this in the Harvard Journal on Legislation some years ago: The Proper Scope of the Copyright and Patent Power.