The House Republican Study Committee (RSC) released a policy paper on the topic of copyright law last month. The paper was a call for reform for what many see as a bloated system that favors big businesses to the detriment of small players hoping to create and innovate. It looked to be a great victory for those who have been calling for copyright reform for years. Copyright reform also resonates with tech savvy youth, who understand the problems our current copyright laws pose to creativity and innovation. The good news to these constituencies, however, was not to last as not a day later, the RSC retracted the paper. The reasoning was that it failed to go through the proper review procedures, though some theories have settled on strong pressure from Hollywood lobbying groups forcing them to withdraw.
The paper discussed limiting the copyright term to 12 years with the option of extending it for a percentage of revenue, expanding the limits of fair use to include things such as satire, and adding disincentives for falsely claiming copyright infringement, among other things. The paper also addresses a series of supposed myths that many hold to be true of copyright laws, including that copyright law is a part of free-market capitalism, that our copyright legal system leads to greater innovation and that the purpose of copyright is to compensate the creator. The entire paper is worth read.
Many might remember the fight over SOPA earlier this year, the bill that would have given immense powers to government and law enforcement agencies to enforce stringent anti-piracy laws. Many in the tech community found it to be an overreach, with portions of the bill requiring search engines to block certain websites and give law enforcement the authority to take sites down for copyright infringement. It was seen as an affront to free speech, innovation and economic growth. Many Republicans led the fight against it, citing the bills draconian measures and anti-market policies. Many saw this newly released policy paper as an expansion of the Republican’s fight.
Democrats, along with many Republicans, have long been against instituting copyright reform and were the main force behind SOPA earlier this year. Democrats long ties to the Hollywood donor community can be said to be behind that support, though it puts them at odds with another large, longtime mainstay of Democratic donors, Silicon Valley. Many in the tech community began welcoming Republicans with open arms at news of the RSC policy paper, as they felt that finally, someone understood the issues that were important to their business. As the technology sector is one of the bright spots in the world economy, anything to further encourage growth is something that we should encourage.
Consumers are best served when government doesn’t get involved into the marketplace, and this is certainly one of those times. Copyright law has become cumbersome and detrimental to progress, and as the RSC paper stated, the legal system surrounding it “is seen by many as a form of corporate welfare that hurts innovation and hurts the consumer.” Republicans and free-market Democrats should embrace the ideas found in the RSC paper to benefit consumers and create more opportunity for all.
Zack Christenson writes on digital tech issues for the American Consumer Institute