Washington can be a wacky place. Case in point: on November 19, 2012, the Republican Study Committee (RSC) — an independent congressional body that advances party-centric policy analysis — issued a brief containing some pretty ambitious ideas for reforming federal copyright law. No sooner than the document was made public, it was yanked, with RSC Executive Director Paul Teller stating: “Yesterday, you received a Policy Brief on copyright law that was published without adequate review within the RSC and failed to meet that standard. Copyright reform would have far-reaching impacts, so it is incredibly important that it be approached with all facts and viewpoints in hand.”
Obviously, once something hits the internet, you can’t magically make it go away; copies of the original brief are still circulating. You can read the full text here.
None of the proposals outlined in the brief are particularly novel, but they do represent a new line of thinking among some members of Congress (and possibly the Republican party). Among the brief’s suggested reforms are: limited copyright terms, expanded fair use, punishment for false copyright claims and a reduction in statutory damages for infringement. While the merits of each proposal can be debated (probably endlessly), the fact that they were itemized in an official party document is significant.
Entertainment industry trade groups such as the RIAA were reportedly not pleased with the existence of the report. However, RIAA Senior Executive Vice President Mitch Glazier was glad that “the Republican Study Committee clarified that the policy brief did not meet RSC standards for review by member offices and staff.”
Some internet activists were quick to embrace the document, at least in terms of its potential to open up debate. The language of the RSC brief left a lot to be desired in terms of specific reforms and their effects on not only the entertainment industries but also creators themselves. We think that multi-stakeholder conversations about how copyright can better function in the digital realm are absolutely necessary. More importantly, musicians and other artists need to be directly involved. If this mini-controversy opens up the floor for expanded dialog, it’s not a bad thing.
On a philosophical level, the brief illustrated some interesting dichotomies within the Republican party itself. The document states: “Copyright violates nearly every tenet of laissez faire capitalism. Under the current system of copyright, producers of content are entitled to a guaranteed, government instituted, government subsidized content-monopoly.” However, there is another line of thought held by many Republicans that copyright is closer to property rights, and therefore deserving of stringent protections. Whether these opposing views can be reconciled within a singular governing philosophy remains to be seen.
At the very least, this incident demonstrates that issues involving intellectual property and the internet will continue to be front-burner for the foreseeable future. Have you read the retracted brief? We’re very curious to hear what you think — let us know in the comments.