Copyright review hearings end first phase as DOC Copyright Green Paper is released

On April 24, 2013, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) announced that the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet would “conduct a comprehensive review of U.S. copyright law over the coming months.” The first set of those hearings have just concluded.

The first of the hearings featured a panel of experts who participated in the Copyright Principles Project led by Professor Pamela Samuelson of Berkeley Law School.[1] The second panel, in contrast, emphasized representatives from the creative industries. The third hearing focused on the technology industries. The three hearings represent the Venn diagram of copyright policy: Creators, Disseminators, and Users. Each of these groups overlaps and the boundaries are very imprecise. Nonetheless, there remains a tension among these three spheres because greater legal protections in one sphere tend to affect the other spheres in unwanted ways. Since all three spheres are critical to the culture and to the creative economy, copyright reform is a matter of finding balance and cohesion within this matrix.

In addition to the hearings by the House Judiciary Committee, the Department of Commerce Internet Policy Task Force issued a green paper entitled “Copyright Policy, Creativity, and Innovation in the Digital Economy.”[2] The green paper emphasizes the need for balance between protections for creative rights ownership and the broad dissemination of information.

Some would argue that copyright protection and the free flow of information are inextricably at odds—that copyright enforcement will diminish the innovative information-disseminating power of the Internet, or that policies promoting the free flow of information will lead to the downfall of copyright. Such a pessimistic view is unwarranted. The ultimate goal is to find, as then-Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke explained, “the sweet spot on Internet policy – one that ensures the Internet remains an engine of creativity and innovation; and a place where we do a better job protecting against piracy of copyrighted works.” Effective and balanced copyright protection need not be antithetical to the free flow of information, nor need encouraging the free flow of information undermine copyright. In fact, as the Supreme Court has recognized, “the Framers intended copyright itself to be the engine of free expression.”[3]

While the green paper is very detailed, it emphasizes areas such as the public performance right for sound recordings, issues involving notice and takedown under the DMCA, online licensing of works, and online enforcement.[4] The green paper also expresses support for expanded fair use and related exclusivity exemptions, particularly with regards to teaching and access for persons with disabilities. The green paper was distributed as the first round of hearings came to a close. The green paper had little influence on the initial hearings but is likely to become increasingly influential as the process continues.

The green paper and the Goodlatte hearings, together with the many efforts by the Copyright Office and others, are creating significant energy around changes to the copyright statute. At the same  time, the proposals are tweaks rather than overhauls and the public may quickly grow tired of what will be a lengthy process. But it matters, so try to stay tuned.


[1] See Pamela Samuelson, The Copyright Principles Project: Directions for Reform, 25 Berkeley Tech. L.J., 1175 (2011) http://www.law.berkeley.edu/files/bclt_CPP.pdf.

[2] Copyright Policy, Creativity, and Innovation in the Digital Economy, Dept. of Comm. Internet Policy Task Force, July 2013 at http://www.uspto.gov/news/publications/copyrightgreenpaper.pdf. See also USPTO & NTIA, Copyright Policy, Creativity, and Innovation in the Internet Economy, 75 Fed. Reg. 72790 (November 26, 2010) (notice of inquiry. The comments are available at http://ssl.ntia.doc.gov/comments/100910448-0448-01/.).

[3] Id. at 2, quoting Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enters., 471 U.S. 539, 558 (1985).

[4] Id. at 5.

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