Republicans: Copyright Skeptics?

See the afterward below for the latest information on this.

Over at The Volokh Conspiracy, a group blog by conservative lawyers, Stewart Baker writes that Republicans are repudiating 40 years of tougher copyright laws. If that's true it can only be good news for sanity and common sense. But what evidence is there for this change of heart?

Baker points to a Republican Study Committee Policy Brief that discusses the problems with current copyright law and recommends some solutions. The report is an interesting read. It first explores three widely held beliefs about copyright, all of which are false:

  1. The purpose of copyright is to compensate the creator of the content.
  2. Copyright is free market capitalism at work.
  3. Copyright, as currently constituted, leads to the greatest amount of innovation and productivity.

Next, the report lists some of the distorting effects of copyright law. Irreal readers will be familiar with these but it's nice to see that politicos are coming to recognize them as well.

Finally, the report discusses some reforms:

  1. Rewriting of the statutory damages laws to be proportionate and sensible.
  2. Expanded fair use.
  3. Punishment of false copyright claims.
  4. Limitation of copyright terms and the creation of disincentives for renewal.

Regardless of your political persuasion, you will, I think, find this brief compelling. Definitely worth your time.


I wrote this on Saturday. By the end of the day the brief had already been withdrawn1. Techdirt (and lots of others) are reporting that Paul Teller, the RSC executive director, has released a memo withdrawing the brief and claiming that it was published “without adequate review.” Techdirt finds that claim silly. They say that everything posted on the RSC website goes through the same full review. What really happened here, they say, is that big media went ballistic and the RSC caved. I really don't understand this. It's not like big media is suddenly going to start supporting Republicans.

I held off publishing in the hopes that sanity would reassert itself at the RSC but I guess that's not happening. I'll leave the political analysis to others but I don't see how the Republicans gain by looking like craven toadies for big media. I sure see a lot of ways they get hurt though. The original document is still worth a read; you can find a copy of it here.


1 Providing yet another confirmation of Betteridge's law.

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