Last week, the Republican Study Committee, the caucus of House Republicans, issued a report on potential copyright law reform that likely sent the entertainment industry into a scramble. Perhaps due to immediate pressure from the industry’s powerful lobby, RSC retracted the report within 24 hours.
In essence, the retracted report argued that Congress has turned copyright law into an excessive, government enforced monopoly on content. Contrary to the Constitution’s endorsement of time-limited copyright protections of 14 years with the ability renew for an additional 14 years if the author was still alive “to promote the progress of science and the useful arts,” today, creators of copyrighted material can ask the government to strictly protect their work for more than a hundred years!
Among the report’s ideas:
• Reduce the current copyright protection period to 12-years, with the option to renew for another 12-years or longer in exchange for a share of the previous revenues from the work. Under that legal regime, much of your 80s and early 90s playlists would have entered the public domain by now and would be free to download.
• Expand “fair use” rules, which are the circumstances in which copyrighted material may be legally used. This would make it much easier for artists to produce, distribute and sell remixes or mash-ups of copyrighted work.
• Reform statutory damages for copyright infringement. Under current law, a college student willfully downloading a single copyrighted song on a file-sharing platform is liable for up to $150,000. Copyright infringement damages were intended to compensate copyright holders for their loss, but now they appear to be absurdly punitive. Damages in the ballpark of $50-100 per infraction seem more appropriate in the case of private citizens illegally downloading copyrighted content for non-commercial purposes.
Freedom from overzealous government copyright protection was the subject of intense Congressional lobbying earlier this year, when the web was abuzz over the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Pitted against the entertainment lobby, Internet and social media giants such as Google, Twitter, and Wikipedia staged online protests against the bill with broad support from younger, Internet savvy Americans.
Although the Republican Study Committee retracted the copyright “memo,” some powerful Republicans, such as California Congressman Darrell Issa, seemed intrigued by the report’s proposals. Issa took to twitter to announce, “It’s time to start this copyright reform conversation.”
It’s likely a conversation that would earn Republicans some support from the Limewire generation.