House GOP Publishes Sane Copyright Reform Policy; Immediately Retracts It

Heads are still spinning after House Republicans’ stunning about-face on a copyright reform proposal that had Internet freedom advocates cheering — for about 24 hours.   Less than a day after declaring that “current copyright law does not merely distort some markets — rather it destroys entire markets,” the House GOP caucus retracted a position paper calling for more user-friendly policies.

The policy brief from the House  Republican Study Committee took a distinctly libertarian view of intellectual property familiar to many netizens who advocate greater freedom for consumers to access and use digital content now locked up with Digital Rights Management software.  Given that it was House Republicans, rather than Democrats, who scuttled the much-loathed Stop Online Piracy Act, it didn’t seem completely outlandish that the GOP caucus might see a twofer in appealing to a younger demographic at the expense of the Democratic party’s Hollywood paymasters.

Unfortunately, it took less than a day for lobbyists from the recording and movie industries to convince the GOP that the status quo on copyright was just fine, after all.

Explaining that the proposal “was published without adequate review,” officials from the Republican Study Committee effectively said that they didn’t really mean it when they declared “copyright violates nearly every tenet of laissez faire capitalism” and  “hampers scientific inquiry.” In fact, after a good night’s sleep, the GOP even decided that it could no longer stand by the assertion that “in a world where everyone copies stuff at home all the time, the idea that your iPod could make you liable for a billion dollars in damages is excessive.”

The remarkable document immediately vanished from the RSC website, but lives on at the sites of groups seeking to preserve the unicorn-like appearance of a sensible copyright reform proposal from a major political party.  Entitled “Three Myths about Copyright Law and Where to Start to Fix it,” the policy brief dismantles common misconceptions that rights holders rely on to maintain their monopolies over their intellectual properties:

1) That the purpose of copyright is to compensate the creator — the Constitution actually stipulates that the copyright system is meant to “promote the progress of science and useful arts.”

2) That copyright is a representation of free market capitalization — on the contrary, it actually establishes monopolies

3) That the current copyright regime leads to the greatest level of innovation and productivity — the paper notes that “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” (see: patent troll)

The retracted paper made some common-sense recommendations for reform, including reforming a statutory damages regime that can leave teenagers liable for millions of dollars, expanding the range of “fair use” beyond only short snippets and parody, establishing penalties for false copyright claims, and imposing high fees (based on the revenues generated by the protected work) for copyright renewals.

It remains to be seen if any of these proposals will ever make their way into an actual copyright reform bill, but it looks doubtful that such a user-friendly bill will be coming out of the House GOP caucus.

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