Senator Tillis Holds Secret Meeting With IP Maximalists To Discuss A Single US 'IP' Agency

from the that-would-be-a-problem dept

Senator Thom Tillis is chock full of bad ideas about copyrights and patents — mostly focused on making things worse for the public by expanding the monopoly powers granted to patent and copyright holders. So I guess it comes as little surprise that he held a secret meeting that appears to have only been attended by copyright maximalists to talk about trying to merge the Copyright Office into the US Patent & Trademark Office.

In a previously unreported meeting Friday, staffers from the office of Sen. Thom Tillis, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, met with representatives from across the content industries to discuss consolidating America?s three main IP regulators into one sprawling, catch-all agency.

?I think we could look at the organizational structure and ask questions about what?s the most effective way of doing it,? Tillis told National Journal on Tuesday. ?At the end of the day, I want a fair, predictable, and lean IP apparatus?whether it?s patents, trademarks, copyrights.?

Tillis spokesperson Adam Webb said in a statement that the senator ?hosted initial meetings on creating a unified, independent intellectual-property agency and on how to resolve online copyright piracy.? Webb said 35 participants attended the two Friday meetings, which he stressed were preliminary in nature and not guaranteed to result in new legislation.

It seems weird that, if you were exploring such a thing that you wouldn’t bring in folks outside of the copyright maximalist industries, but apparently that’s of less interest to Tillis?

The idea of “consolidating” the Copyright Office into the PTO has long been a dream for many copyright maximalists — mainly because they’re extraordinarily upset that the Copyright Office is a part of the Library of Congress, and they hate the fact that the Librarian of Congress sometimes wants to actually live up to the mission of making sure that copyright is there to “promote the progress” of learning. They’d much rather it be connected with the USPTO, which is under the Commerce Department and clearly designed to be in the interests of the big companies that control it.

It’s already kind of a travesty that the PTO is one agency for both patents and trademarks, since those two things serve extraordinarily different purposes. Trademarks, again, are supposed to be a form of consumer protection — making sure that when you’re buying something from a certain company, you’re aware of who really made it, and aren’t being tricked into buying a copycat. Patents, on the other hand, are supposed to be (though rarely are) about incentivizing innovation. Copyright is supposed to be for the encouragement of learning. It’s just that over the centuries, certain industries have bastardized all three to pretend that they’re about helping a few giant businesses collect as much monopoly rent as possible. Tillis shouldn’t be helping that.

About the only reassuring quote in the piece comes from Mitch Glazier, who now runs the RIAA, but got his initial job at the RIAA just months after he snuck four words into an unrelated piece of legislation that effectively took away the ability of musicians to get control over their works (enabling the RIAA to have much greater control). In the article, Glazier worries that a consolidated agency would focus too much on patents at the expense of copyrights:

Glazier said his office is ?agnostic? about the notion of a unified IP agency, but noted it could kick off a turf war between the three agencies. He also said a single agency could end up focusing largely on patents?far and away the greatest moneymaker?to the detriment of key copyright issues.

Still, there’s literally no need for this move to happen at all, and I don’t understand why Tillis is exploring the idea, nor why he is holding secret meetings with the copyright industry to try to get their buy in.

Filed Under: , , , , , ,
Companies: mpa, riaa

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 “Senator Tillis Holds Secret Meeting With IP Maximalists To Discuss A Single US 'IP' Agency”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
31 Comments
dysmey (profile) says:

I wonder ...

If the Copyright Office were separated from the Library of Congress, would that remove any incentive for the Library to acquire a copy of each American work, since the processing of copyright was the only reason for the Library to do so? Maybe the Library may acquire copies of works if Congress prods it hard enough, but otherwise would not waste its time.

ALXGT says:

observer notes

. if it was such a nefarious Secret meeting, how come we know about it?
(All Congressmen and staffers routinely hold "private" meetings with a wide variety of people and topics)

. everybody screams for efficiency in government, so consolidating some obscure sclerotic Federal agencies might have some merit

. Congressional authority over IP is a limited and purely an optional power under the Constitution.
Monopoly Patents and copyrights from government are a really bad idea, and a glaring error in the Constitution.
But Congress could legally eliminate the whole mess by repealing all Federal IP laws, regulations, and IP bureaucracies — and simply declining to engage in any more IP activity.

(that legendary Gordian Knot problem had a similar solution)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: observer notes

. if it was such a nefarious Secret meeting, how come we know about it?
(All Congressmen and staffers routinely hold "private" meetings with a wide variety of people and topics)

Because someone spoke up about it. Not every nefarious meeting is held in secret. Especially if the perpetrators believe they are untouchable. (Go ask Senator McConnell. He’s openly declared his intent to corrupt the US Supreme Court and the other federal level judges no less than three times on national television.)

. everybody screams for efficiency in government, so consolidating some obscure sclerotic Federal agencies might have some merit

True, but it can also have a detrimental effect on the general public. Such as the article suggests: Regulatory Capture.

Congressional authority over IP is a limited and purely an optional power under the Constitution.

The Supreme Court has famously said otherwise. See also: Eldred v. Ashcroft

The short version of it is: Congress can retroactively extend copyright as much as it wants.

But Congress could legally eliminate the whole mess by repealing all Federal IP laws, regulations, and IP bureaucracies — and simply declining to engage in any more IP activity.

Congress could do that, but it would also be a temporary measure due to the massive amount of rich publishers that would be crying foul and sending blank checks to Congress.

The only real solution there would be to remove that power from the Constitution and that would require an amendment.

Eli says:

Re: Re: observer notes

"only real solution… would be to remove that power from the Constitution"


…or if Congress & Supremes ever chose to actually obey the current Constitution, they would sharply limit things to the Constitutionally specified :

‘Writings and Discoveries that promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts’

…that would eliminate over 90% of the current monopoly IP grants, and permit dramatic simplification of the Federal control bureaucracy

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: observer notes

"The Supreme Court has famously said otherwise. See also: Eldred v. Ashcroft. The short version of it is: Congress can retroactively extend copyright as much as it wants."

To be fair though that only made the word "limited" do a lot of work. The constitutional still holds the implementation of copyright and patents as strictly optional. Yes, congress can retroactively extend copyright, if it so chooses. It can also withdraw it’s support for such protection, rendering the entire structure of copyright law on a very shaky foundation, likely rendering most of the enforcement mechanisms outright unconstitutional.

Rekrul says:

It seems weird that, if you were exploring such a thing that you wouldn’t bring in folks outside of the copyright maximalist industries, but apparently that’s of less interest to Tillis?

Why would he bring in anyone else when copyright’s exclusive purpose is to maximize profits for large corporations?

The idea of "consolidating" the Copyright Office into the PTO has long been a dream for many copyright maximalists — mainly because they’re extraordinarily upset that the Copyright Office is a part of the Library of Congress, and they hate the fact that the Librarian of Congress sometimes wants to actually live up to the mission of making sure that copyright is there to "promote the progress" of learning.

Promoting the progress of learning was phased out of copyright long ago. Now it’s to promote profits.

Copyright is supposed to be for the encouragement of learning.

That’s an antiquated idea that not a single politician today supports.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Why would he bring in anyone else when copyright’s exclusive purpose is to maximize profits for large corporations?"

Well, in theory copyright is for everyone. For example, there’s a few high profile movies that "borrowed" ideas from existing movies or other media where small players got their ideas clearly ripped off by Hollywood productions and were compensated afterwards (a good example is Michael Bay’s movie The Island). This would not be possible if copyright did not exist.

The current form of copyright, especially in terms of its restrictions and how its enforced, is very much created to the needs of corporations, but a world without any copyright at all would not be any prettier.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

but a world without any copyright at all would not be any prettier.

I think it would be prettier, as what creative types have to sell is their ability to create new works, and that is what most self publishers rely on. Indeed most could not afford to go to law to protect their rights under copyright, as that is a way of going broke while winning.

In practice copyright has allowed publishers to be very profitable, while very few authors survive without a day job if they go to a publisher.

Script writers etc. could still make a living writing works for hire. Indeed such a world brings creative work more in line with other jobs, rather than allowing people to dream that one work of creativity will make them, their children and grand children rich for life. A protection against plagiarism is all that is needed.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"as what creative types have to sell is their ability to create new works, and that is what most self publishers rely on"

OK. So, what happens when a major publisher gets hold of the manuscript and publishes it on their far larger platform, selling way more copies without having to give a penny to the original author? Because you know that’s exactly what would happen, since that happening is exactly why current copyright was implemented.

"In practice copyright has allowed publishers to be very profitable, while very few authors survive without a day job if they go to a publisher."

Also if they don’t go to a publisher. Almost no artists of any type manage to quit their day jobs no matter how they choose to release their work. The ability to make money through self publishing would also be somewhat reduced if anyone can reprint your work without paying you.

"Script writers etc. could still make a living writing works for hire"

They could also submit a script, have it rejected and have zero recourse when the studio decides to rewrite it anyway.

"A protection against plagiarism is all that is needed."

Is it plagiarism if they take something, then use the work anyway? It’s not plagiarism if you correctly attribute a work, but it’s also not illegal if you take something that’s in the public domain (as all works would be without copyright) and use it without paying the original author.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The ability to make money through self publishing would also be somewhat reduced if anyone can reprint your work without paying you.

For most self publishers, that is the practicality of life, as the cannot afford the lawyers needed to protect their copyrights. Also, they are usually being paid to create the next work, which is what selling their creativity is all about. So long as works are properly attributed, any distribution of a work helps build the fan base that provides their income.

They could also submit a script, have it rejected and have zero recourse when the studio decides to rewrite it anyway.

How is that any different from today, as lawyers cost money, and fighting the case takes a lot of a persons time, and that often makes legal protections like copyright moot for most people.

Copyright is a license to sue, if you have the money and time available for the legal fight.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

"For most self publishers, that is the practicality of life, as the cannot afford the lawyers needed to protect their copyrights"

But, the fix for that is not to remove the possibility of recourse completely.

"How is that any different from today"

Because having an option that is difficult for you to exercise is very different from not having any options.

The system does need to be reformed on a grand scale, of course, but removing all options from smaller players will not magically result in a level playing field.

"Copyright is a license to sue, if you have the money and time available for the legal fight."

Whereas zero copyright is a licence for people with those resources to not even have to bother pretending to not be stealing content. Actual stealing, not the wooly "if we pretend that every download is a lost sale we could have made more money than currently exists" definition of stealing that they currently lean on.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

"how to resolve online copyright piracy."

Well step one would be to stop calling it piracy, not only are pirates really cool but no one sank Sonys ship & forced her crew into slavery.
Then getting ACTUAL numbers, not just fantasies, about what if any actual losses are happening.
Then remind law makers that all of those poor workers on the content are paid flat rates and if 500 people see an episode without paying they aren’t harmed.
Then someone to explain how keeping Steamboat willie locked up encourages Walts frozen head to make more content.
Then I’d love for Senator Tillis to answer why he left the most important stake holder out of these discussions, the public shouldn’t have to make more donations to get a seat at the table to ask why the life destroying amount of damages still exists when there aren’t organized gangs making billions by putting a crappy cammed version of a movie online.
Then we can cover why the hell remastering is allowed to extend copyright even longer destroying our common heritage & violating the deal… for a limited time should really not exceed 2 generations lifetimes but here the fsck we are.

Wyrm (profile) says:

  • Trademark: inform consumers about the origin of goods… by allowing the distributor to monopolize some art and/or language (in theory: this is a narrow monopoly)

  • Patent: allow the public to understand how to make a new product… by allowing the inventor to monopolize the right to manufacture it (or grant the right to do it)

  • Copyright: encourage broadcast of knowledge (and art… and random speech… depending on the interpretation)… by allowing the creator to monopolize its distribution (or grant the right to do it).

The first one is kind of ok, as long as the art + language used is unique enough. Problem is when litigation occurs on very broad trademarks (e.g. a single common word), or with similarities you can only figure out if you look at the brand logos during a foggy night from miles away.

The last two of these concepts start from the same nice idea (encouraging distribution of knowledge/culture), but are implemented with a deliberate paradox: granting the originator a way to limit the distribution. The way to solve the paradox was to set a reasonable time limit on this monopoly. You give something to the public in exchange for an exclusive right to make money out of it for a limited time (which is very explicitly mentioned in the Copyright Clause).

The problem is that both the scope and the duration of these concepts has become absurd. The scope of copyright is basically: "anything done on the internet". The scope of patents is getting dangerously close to "anything", thanks to convoluted definitions that mask how overly broad they are.
Also, neither is supposed to cover "a concept" or "an idea", but they are getting pretty close to it thanks to over-generous judges (e.g. Blurred Lines) or, once again, convoluted patent descriptions (and generous judges… Sorry, one generous judge).
As for durations, it’s been extended (retroactively) several times by different means. Copyright by legal extensions with an already absurd baseline of "life of the author". And patents can be extended indefinitely by filing a derivative patent. (In pharma, that’s explicitly allowed… encouraged even; in other patents, it’s not supposed to be, but the language of patents often obfuscates the fact that it is exactly what happens.) Entire generations can be locked out of using and expanding on a work or invention.

Patents and Copyright share a lot of similarities, and both should be reformed, not reinforced with more exemption to basic common sense. They should be brought back to what they were originally advertised at: a way to broadcast knowledge, not restrict it.

I have the highest respect to people who manage to make money out of their works without locking out others. "Would you patent the sun?" is a memorable quote. Too bad the IP maximalists nowadays would unashamedly answer "YES!".

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

""Would you patent the sun?" is a memorable quote. Too bad the IP maximalists nowadays would unashamedly answer "YES!"."

To anyone using that quote I’d recommend they read old Frederic Bastiat’s "The Candlemaker’s Petition". The urge of an industry risking redundancy lobbying for extreme powers of protectionism isn’t exactly new…

Arijirija says:

late to the party as usual ... but

in BYTE Magazine a fair few years gone by, one Jerry Pournelle made the comment around the time of the Soviet Union’s dissolution, that the real weapon the West had had in bringing it down was not The Third Ronnie, Raygun’s (bloated and demented) Star Wars aka SDI (aka (Pentagon) Budgetary Defense Initiative courtesy of Arthur C. Clarke) – but the simple fact that the lines of communication were much more open in the West, and they were opened even further with the development of the PC.

Fast Forward to these times, and the fact that the US is allegedly gearing itself up for Great Power competition with the PRC, and a US Senator and various major power borkers aka corporations, are gearing themselves up to clamp down on the free flow of ideas?

Wonderful. Just wonderful! Team USA setting their sights on failure!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: late to the party as usual ... but

Fast Forward to these times, and the fact that the US is allegedly gearing itself up for Great Power competition with the PRC, and a US Senator and various major power borkers aka corporations, are gearing themselves up to clamp down on the free flow of ideas?

Yep. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The US is done. They can’t even make the tiniest revisions to something without The Swindlers of Industry coming out of the woodwork to squabble over which one of them gets paid first. And that’s assuming those same Swindlers are the ones who came up with the change. If not, they bring the full force of their bought and paid for laws on the heads of the poor sap that dared to bake a cake without handing it over to them regardless of their complete lack of support or presence in baking it.

Meanwhile, every other country on earth just shrugs and leaves the US in the dust. It’s not hard to see where that ends up, yet we still have arguments about "work ethic" and "garage guys" when the entire system is designed from the ground up to exclude us and penalize us for trying.

Wonderful. Just wonderful! Team USA setting their sights on failure!

Failure assumes you’re permitted to try in the first place. Most people today work under arrangements where if they create something regardless of what, when, where, or how the employer gets ownership of it. OR That arrangement can be made easily by a change to their employment contract that already includes a mandatory and binding arbitration clause. (A.K.A. The employer’s judge on the payroll.)

Think that’s all you need to be concerned with? Even if you can get passed the asshole employers (and the ones you’ve worked for in the past!), good luck with having the $10,000.00 needed to even attempt a patent application. (That price doesn’t include a lawyer to help you BTW.) Get that patent? Great, now you get to have fun dealing with overly broad submarine patent trolls who would love to see you in the court of the Eastern District of Texas. Bribed the Texas judges into ruling in your favor? Great, now have fun trying to get suppliers and retailers on board who are threatened with loss of business / breach of contract / and product shortages if they are spotted even standing next to you in line at a fast food joint. Built everything yourself and sell directly to customers online? Great, now you get to deal with the regulatory threats that your "competitors" bribe the politicians for. Managed to get a few friends in D.C.? Congratulations! Now you’re now a card carrying member of the ol’ boys club, and it only took the total GDP of some countries to get there. (Along with your soul.) But don’t get too comfortable, those up and comers need to be squashed to maintain control over your bought and paid for marketshare and power…..

The same can be said of copyright. The court jurisdiction is just bigger than Texas, and you get the copyright for free. Of course that assumes you didn’t use a single cord of music. (They’re all owned by the record labels you know.) Or say a word about any inspiration. Don’t forget to somehow avoid nebulous scenarios that could be considered derivative. Oh, and make sure your main character has some random outstanding trait that’s different from all other characters released since the 1920s just to be on the safe side. Oh I forgot to mention that works can be brought back into copyright after entering the public domain, better check that list. What list? Where is it? Oops my bad. I forgot we don’t have a definitive list of registrations. Guess you’ll just have to ask everyone. Oh, some of them won’t even check to see if they own the rights without you making the work available first? (So they can entrap you.) Well good luck in court. Oh, and by the way, if you do somehow manage to get passed all of that, just remember that your great-great-grandchildren may loose the perpetual copyright that your ashes are so incentivized by to create additional works. So you best get to handing out those bribes in D.C. now to ensure that your descendants never have to work a day in their lives while everyone else does. Forever.

The US is done. It thinks it can keep a stranglehold on it’s creators and deprive itself of new technologies while simultaneously paying everyone in perpetuity for nothing and reigning supreme as a world superpower. It’s delusional.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: late to the party as usual ... but

"The US is done. It thinks it can keep a stranglehold on it’s creators and deprive itself of new technologies while simultaneously paying everyone in perpetuity for nothing and reigning supreme as a world superpower. It’s delusional."

Although that’s not the only place where the US is stuck in flagrantly insane or obsolete ways the main issue is that the bad decision-making of the past has enormous inertia. The fast way to fix all of what is broken is a rebuild from scratch.

And to think we’re talking about the country which taught everyone else about social responsibility and was a world leader of social democracy under FDR…

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

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...
Loading...