Free Market Argument for Copyright Reform

There was a bit of a controversy earlier this week when a policy brief from the Republican Study Committee was released advocating for major copyright reform with regards to intellectual property–and then it was “unreleased”. The reasoning given was the the report was actually not properly vetted, whereas the belief amongst many was that lobbyists–such as the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America–got to the GOP.
As Lisa Shuchman reports, Rep. Darrell Issa, who was a strong opponent of SOPA, is regarded as someone with both the pull and desire to get something done on this front.

“The bad news for the movie studios and record companies is that the discussion about how to make copyright law make sense in a digital age has already started in Washington, and it will continue, with our without them,” Gigi Sohn, an attorney and president and co-founder of the public policy non-profit Public Knowledge, wrote in her blog.
Indeed, Public Knowledge and others advocating for change to the copyright system have at least one ally in Congress. Rep. Darell Issa, who sits on the Judiciary Committee and its Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet Subcommittee, wrote on his Twitter account Monday that the report was a “very interesting copyright reform proposal” and “It’s time to start this copyright reform conversation.”
The Congressman, who emerged as a leader on issues related to Internet rights earlier this year when he opposed the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), has already said he plans to make digital rights a priority in the new Congress.

So, while it’s not “official”, here is the brief in full. And, to give you some flavor, here is the conclusion, which argues for reform based on free-market principles.:

To be clear, there is a legitimate purpose to copyright (and for that matter patents). Copyright ensures that there is sufficient incentive for content producers to develop content, but there is a steep cost to our unusually long copyright period that Congress has now created. Our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution with explicit instructions on this matter for a limited copyright – not an indefinite monopoly. We must strike this careful Goldilocks-like balance for the consumer and other businesses versus the content producers.
It is difficult to argue that the life of the author plus 70 years is an appropriate copyright term for this purpose – what possible new incentive was given to the content producer for content protection for a term of life plus 70 years vs. a term of life plus 50 years? Where we have reached a point of such diminishing returns we must be especially aware of the known and predictable impact upon the greater market that these policies have held, and we are left to wonder on the impact that we will never know until we restore a constitutional copyright system.
Current copyright law does not merely distort some markets – rather it destroys entire markets.

There is much more free-market based reasoning within the brief. As they say, read the whole thing (it’s only 9 pages!).

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10 years ago

The MPAA and RIAA are upset that technology is driving down the cost of the $30 pieces of plastic they’ve been selling, so rather than adapt their business models, they lobby government to increase the power of their already leviathan government-sponsored corporate monopoly. The booming black market that has emerged, just as in the case of illegal drugs, is evidence that something is very wrong with the supply and pricing in that market. Software patents are perhaps the worst intellectual property development of our time. The same overlapping concepts and incoherent patents of gobbledegook are being churned out millions of times a year, being hoarded by corporations for offensive and defensive litigation. Corporations even have software patents on things like hyperlinks and mouseclicks.
The ever-expanding “life of the author plus 70 years” monopoly copyright grants is already repugnant and to the “limited time” specified in the Constitution. If I lent you a movie for a “limited time,” could you reasonably interpret that to mean for the rest of your life plus 70 years? Only to Congress could such a concept make sense. How do royalties going to Martin Luther King’s great-grandkids promote the arts and sciences? Maybe Britney Spears could just be a millionaire instead of a near-billionaire and the world wouldn’t end. Maybe creating something popular shouldn’t automatically entitle someone to a massive government-granted fortune; maybe they should have to be creative about marketing it too.

10 years ago

Here’s an easy one, and maybe even this is too long. Have it match the drug patent times, now listed at 20 years. Heck, half of that may be plenty.
In reality, how much stuff is really still generating royalties 10-20 years down the line? Maybe a Star Wars or something similar but My Cousin Vinny? Lethal Weapon 3? Home Alone 2? C’mon. Time to enter the public domain.

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