Bob Goodlatte Calls For Copyright Reform, Leaves Specifics To The Imagination

from the at-least-we-agree-it's-broken dept

In a press release issued today, Rep. Bob Goodlatte made a call for comprehensive copyright reform and announced series of hearings on copyright before the House Judiciary Committee. Of course, this isn't the first indication that Congress is interested in copyright reform — they heard Maria Pallante's testimony, which addressed many of the key issues involved, and was a mixed bag of good and bad ideas.

One thing the two have in common is a lack of specificity. Goodlatte is a friend of Hollywood and played a big role in SOPA during its conception, so it's pretty much guaranteed that a lot of his ideas for reform won't be the kind of reform we actually need — but for now, he's avoiding saying much. Most of the press release is dedicated to discussing the history of copyright reform and attempting to establish his own credentials. Only one paragraph offers any suggestion as to what Goodlatte thinks copyright reform might consist of:

There is little doubt that our copyright system faces new challenges today. The Internet has enabled copyright owners to make available their works to consumers around the world, but has also enabled others to do so without any compensation for copyright owners. Efforts to digitize our history so that all have access to it face questions about copyright ownership by those who are hard, if not impossible, to locate. There are concerns about statutory license and damage mechanisms. Federal judges are forced to make decisions using laws that are difficult to apply today. Even the Copyright Office itself faces challenges in meeting the growing needs of its customers – the American public.

Well, right off the bat we have concerns about piracy (while avoiding using the word), so we know where his priorities are. The rest of the things he lists — orphaned works, compulsory licenses and royalty rates, statutory damages, unclear legal definitions — are indeed some of the key parts of copyright law that need fixing, but that doesn't mean he has the right ideas about how to fix them. When it comes to things like statutory royalties and damages, both sides often think they are broken — the question is whether they are too high or too low. When it comes to clearing up legal definitions of things like fair use and contributory infringement, one small detail could swing the needle wildly in either direction.

Maybe it's a good thing that Goodlatte is avoiding getting into specifics, and instead launching hearings — but based on his past opinions and some of the implications of the press release, there's plenty of reason to wonder just how open and balanced these hearings will be. Will they include representatives of the public, or just industry lobbyists like so many copyright discussions in the past? And will they be seeking to reform copyright in a way that benefits the public, as it is supposed to, or just trying to "stop piracy"?

Goodlatte has surprised us a little bit in the past. Here's hoping he surprises us again — but I'm not holding my breath.


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  1. identicon
    S. T. Stone, 24 Apr 2013 @ 3:00pm

    Re: NOW'S your chance, Mike! Leap into the vacuum:

    he too says it's broken but has no idea how to fix it

    Funny thing about that: nobody has any real, tangible, provable ideas on how to fix copyright. Everyone from Mr. Masnick and the Techdirt Crew to regular jackoffs such as myself might have opinions on how to fix copyright, and some of them might even sound sensible, but we can’t prove one way or the other than our ideas could fix the massive problems with copyright.

    That also assumes any idea, whether a singular major idea or a combination of smaller ideas, can somehow ‘fix’ copyright as it stands today. We have a system that criminalizes people for doing what technology allows them to do, makes it possible for a work to stay out of the public domain for seventy years after its creator dies, and has no real teeth in regards to punishing those who use the system to send fradulent copyright takedowns or use copyright to silence perfectly legal speech. A ‘quick fix’ would patch problems, but how long would those patches last, and how effective would lawmakers make those patches?

    When you can come up with a definitive way to salvage a workable copyright law that both allows creators to protect their works and respects the original purpose of copyright without allowing the major media conglomerates to control all of culture due to their massive bankrolls and legion of lawyers, feel free to lay it on us in detail.

    Until then, don't whine about ‘lack of specificity’ in the opinions and ideas presented here on Techdirt, ’kay?

    a false dichotomy

    Except…yeah, it’s not. The major media companies would love to reform copyright in a way that makes it easier for them to stop piracy, and such reforms would likely do more for that purpose than it would do for benefitting the public interest. Feel free to offer any evidence to the contrary, though; I’d love to see the MPAA or RIAA actually say they have the public interest in mind and mean it.

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