Why Is Congress Pushing For Locking Up More Culture?

from the seems-backwards dept

In a weird bit of performative nonsense, Senators Thom Tillis and Pat Leahy, along with Representatives Hakeem Jeffries and Nancy Mace, have come together to… try to help kids lock up culture under copyright. Specifically, they want a bill that would allow kids to register a copyright for free for participants in the Congressional Art Competition and the Congressional App Competition. It is not at all clear why this is necessary, other than to perpetuate the myth that you need a copyright to be creative.

First, to be clear, any such unique and original artwork is already covered by copyright. For better or for worse (by which I mean, for worse), the US now says that copyright is automatic from the time the work is “fixed” in a tangible medium (and if you try to point out that computer code is not a tangible medium, it gets them very, very angry, so don’t bother…). So no one needs to register their copyright to be protected. Not registering does limit the ability of the copyright holder to sue or to get statutory damages. But if anyone creating works for a Congressional Art Competition is seeking to sue others, well, that seems like a bigger problem right there.

But here’s the key point: copyright is supposed to be there solely as an incentive for creation. The entire setup and basis for copyright in the Constitution is so that Congress can create incentives to promote the progress of science and the useful arts (and, copyright was meant for the “science” part, patents are the “useful arts”). I can pretty much assure you that no one creating artwork or apps for a Congressional competition is doing so because they’re incentivized by the copyright. They’re doing so because of the competition itself and the desire to express themselves (and maybe get some attention for what they’ve done).

So encouraging locking these things up is bizarre and counterproductive. More to the point, why aren’t these elected officials suggesting that the artists and developers entering these competitions explore the many Creative Commons options to help get their works more widely known?

The answer, tragically, is as obvious as it is cynical. This is all driven by the legacy copyright industries who keep trying to push the myth that copyright = creation. And these are their favorite elected officials. Hollywood backed Tillis strongly in the last election, in which he was expected to lose, so he clearly owes them. Leahy has always been extremely close to Hollywood. Beyond being the Senate supporter of SOPA (his version was PIPA), Hollywood always rewards Leahy by giving him small roles in every Batman film. His daughter is also a Vice President and top lobbyist for the Motion Picture Academy, Hollywood’s top lobbying body.

On the House side, the legacy copyright industry has been cultivating a close relationship with Jeffries for a while now, including setting up a neat fundraiser for him in which if you just pay him (and Jerry Nadler) $5k each you get to hang out with Jeffries at the Grammies. Nice work if you can get it. Nancy Mace is new to Congress, so she may just be along for the ride here.

The problem with all of this is just how cynically corrupt this seems. Even if it’s in the form of “soft corruption,” the connection of a few Senators and Representatives pushing a misguided line of thinking — that completely undermines the very basis for copyright law — in favor of the myth pushed by Hollywood and the legacy recording industry, it just makes everyone actually respect copyright even less.

This isn’t what copyright is for, and it’s shameful that these elected officials are pushing the myth forward.

Filed Under: , , , , , , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Why Is Congress Pushing For Locking Up More Culture?”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Why Is Congress Pushing For Locking Up More Culture?

Because the more people that think selling their copyright to a gatekeeper is the way to make money, the less competition the gatekeepers will have from self publishers, and the fewer cultural works that will be available.

Any cultural work that is locked up in a drawer waiting in vain for a publisher to take it on is a wasted effort.

Willis Fairgold says:

Time for another internet blackout

With Congress wanting to get rid of section 230 and copyright extremism being pushed online. It’s time to consider the #internetblackout2021. It worked for SOPA AND PIPA AND CISPA. When we did not blackout the internet CISA NOT CISPA PASSED. We have to warn people. Let’s consider another internet blackout for 2021 before it’s too late

Jojo (profile) says:

Re: Time for another internet blackout

I agree, but executing another blackout is going to be trickier than the last. One, you have to convince at least some of the social media giants to do a collective blackout in one day; since corporations usually puts money first, maybe some social media companies might just think that it’s not worth the short term financial loss or even think that they can survive the revocation of Section 230 or America’s version of Article 13. The first blackout was successful because 1) the public perception of the internet was way more positive a decade ago, 2) misinformation wasn’t a major concern, and 3) the enemy was clear and specific. To do a blackout relies on the principles of speech: pathos (emotion), ethos (ethics), logos (logic), and timing.

I don’t want to come across as pessimistic or saying that a blackout would be impossible. I am just saying that execution has be on the same level as the SOPA blackout and doing it a second time would be difficult because of the changed landscape.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why is it that as the cost if distributing a eork becomes faster and easier, copyright durations become longer?

1790 – 14 years, can renew once for 14 more years.
1831 – 28 years, can renew once for 14 more years.
1976 – 75 years, or life of author plus 50.
1998 – 120 years, or life of author plus 75.

Hell, the novel "Around the World in Eighty Days" was published in 1872, and at that time circumnavigating the world in only 80 days was a FEAT. The ISS does that now every one and a half hours. And if you think that’s cheating, then a commercial jet can accomplish the feat in only 41 hours. And I’m not even considering that actual text/video/audio can be conveyed across the globe in mere seconds.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

What you have to remember is that copyright was and is about the ability of gatekeepers to control the markets. With that control slipping due to the Internet they want to strengthen copyright to regain that control. The gatekeepers also keep banging on the piracy drum not because it harms their markets directly, but because it is an excuse to try to extend their control to the Internet.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

"Why is it that as the cost if distributing a eork becomes faster and easier, copyright durations become longer?"

At some point in the 20th century, the distribution and marketing of of works became dominated and largely controlled by an increasingly small number of corporations. The corporations do not value anything that’s not currently in the roster if things they wish to sell, or which they wish to use to generate something that will sell. Once they have control of that work, they wish to retain ownership, and thus a monopoly on the profit, for all eternity, and they will likely outlive any individual artist who creates the work they wish to sell. Especially now that they no longer have a monopoly on the distribution and marketing channels, and extended copyright is a neat way to lock out certain types of competition.

That’s it, really. If something is in the public domain, they have no control and no monopoly on its profits, so they don’t want to allow what they control to go there. Then guess who is writing these draconian copyright changes for their won benefit?

Ramba says:

Whenever I see a breakdown of which politician has ties to which corporation or special interest group the image in my mind is a wall covered in photos and newspaper clippings connected by thumbtacks and red string. But unlike my crazy uncle rick it’s stuff that actually matters and I have no Idea how I’m supposed to work and pursue ‘higher education’ and take care of my family and track this shit enough to make informed decisions on my ballot.

I’ve been sober for 5 months. I cried a lot less when I could drink.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"But unlike my crazy uncle rick it’s stuff that actually matters and I have no Idea how I’m supposed to work and pursue ‘higher education’ and take care of my family and track this shit enough to make informed decisions on my ballot. "

Fortunately there are a lot of watchdog organizations undertaking that work. You can usually get away with reading a few summaries from different sources to find out what a particular candidate says he’s about as contrasted by his/her actual actions in office. Put in an hour’s worth of reading every few months and you’re better prepared than 95% of the voting citizenry.

Only problem with this is that by the time a specific candidate has shown their likely worth comprehensively you’re looking at someone like Bernie Sanders – well-intentioned and incorruptible but in politics for so long they’re probably not intuitively knowledgeable on modern technology.

Also, quite unfortunately, the US body politic is for some reason almost uniquely anachronistic, with both sides of the aisle utterly inept when it comes to making decisions about the online environment.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Difficulty: the cult has already been brainwashed into thinking that Snopes and other reliable fact checking organisations are biased liberal propaganda outlets.

Yes, facts do seem to have a liberal bias, but it’s hard to get some of these people to even glance at them, let alone believe them above their preferred echo chamber’s narratives.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"Difficulty: the cult has already been brainwashed into thinking that Snopes and other reliable fact checking organisations are biased liberal propaganda outlets."

True enough, but what the commenter seemed to comment on was the issue about how to know what you actually vote for, while trying to make ends meet and deal with personal problems.

It’s a valid point; if you personally have to vet every candidate you might want to vote for based on their actual history rather than the spiel they run past potential voters then that will consume enormous amounts of time and effort.

Hence why it helps – a lot – to simply find a few relatively impartial watchdog organizations and obtain a summary on just how crooked the candidates in question really are.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Yes, I think for the situation described above, the best thing is to remain politically informed, but not let things directly affect your life until such time as it’s appropriate to take action. When it’s election time, use resources to check the track record of candidates, decide who aligns most closely with your ideals both in terms of stated platform and action taken, and vote accordingly. But, day to day, remain aware but don’t let it affect you as much as possible until you can do something about it.

But, you also have to be aware of other people you might talk to in the process of reaching those decisions. There are some people who will reject objective reality in favour of their preferred political ideal, and it’s worth being aware of those people and their misdirections. The trick is working out who is actually driven solely by ideology and who happens to reach conclusions through honest means, and in those terms it’s worth bearing in mind that there’s a depressingly large group of people who are rejecting verifiable facts as some kind of conpiracy against them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Politicians need money to get elected, corporation s donate money. This is common to all partys, who lobby’s for the public for free speech and for fair use.
It’s obscene that politicans are debating bills to wipe out section 230 a bill that Basically its the first amendment for the Web
Corporations like Sony Disney Att
Want the Web to be like cable TV anything that appears must go thru gatekeepers and editors
Why compete with YouTube and tik Tok
When you can drown it in red tape
Having free speech means little if it costs millions to go to court even when you are in the right
There needs to be a coalition of groups like
the eff small websites YouTube newspapers
fighting to protect section 230
There should be articles in every newspaper
Saying section 230 means freedom free speech for news small websites radio local
Non profits etc eg it’s not just about Facebook or Google it protects anyone
who allows comments or user content
Eg the letters page of your local newpaper
A review Web site for restaurants or hotels
Section 230 allows websites, like reddit, tech dirt to exist
The Web would be a smaller dull place to exist with out it

Anonymous Coward says:

Folk music before 1900 was made without the benefit of copyright,
disney use fair use and the content or old storys created by others
to make films and cartoons which then then own as copyrighted content
disney did not invent the story of snow white or beauty and the beast .
at this point its almost impossible to create a truly original story,
every action film or genre story is based or influenced by other films
or tropes , sterotypes created by other writers and creators.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Disney didn’t use fair use; they used public domain stories and/or waited until certain stories entered the public domain to make their own versions of them. Regarding Fair Use, it was common law until it was enshrined in the 1978 copyright act.

That being said, the Walt Disney Company is–as Cory Doctorow accurately points out–a bunch of grifters.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"Disney didn’t use fair use; they used public domain stories"

Well, this is still somewhat in debate with some of their stories. It even comes through to the modern era – The Mandalorian is clearly inspired to a massive degree by the Lone Wolf and Cub series and numerous spaghetti westerns, but they won’t be paying a penny to the people who created those works. This is quite correct in a general way and art would be way worse off if such inspirations always carried a price tag (indeed, Star Wars could not have existed in the first place if Lucas had to pay off the estates of various WWII movies, Kurosawa and Flash Gordon).

But, this is not the problem. That’s when they try to push back the other way and claim that people inspired by their works in the same way that they borrowed from others suddenly need to be fined for the privilege.

Anonymous Coward says:

these senators would be better to spend their time trying to right a new, sensible for all copyright act including a part that penalises any industry, company or individual for claiming copyright on something that isn’t theirs to the same extent that the present one doesn’t! it might also be worth looking at stopping the over-extended copyright terms and the statutory damages amounts that prevent all but the richest who actually own something from being able to get it out of the grubby little entertainment industries mits!

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...