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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. icon
    nasch (profile), 27 Apr 2013 @ 7:28am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Treaties don't limit what Congress can do; only the federal constitution can do that.

    If I remember right, treaties actually do supersede statute and are supposed to be binding on Congress. This only matters if Congress cares or there's a court challenge with a judge who actually gives a damn. Either way though, we can always pull out of Berne.

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