RSC Rescinds Copyright Report: 'We Screwed Up'

Report Slammed Copyright Regime, But Did Not Represent 'Full Range' of Republican Members
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The Republican Study Committee over the weekend posted and then took down a copyright policy report that was scathing in its assessment of current copyright law -- "it destroys entire markets" -- and almost certainly had folks at the Motion Picture Association of America and others in the content-creation industry seeing several shades of red.

The committee is made up of conservative Republicans dedicated to limiting the Federal Government.

A spokesman for the committee said the report was taken down because it did not reflect a balance of viewpoints on the issue. 

According to Public Knowledge, which supplied a link to a copy of the report, it was posted Nov. 16 and almost immediately taken down.

"On issues where there are several different perspectives among our members, our Policy Briefs should reflect that," said Brian Stressle, communications director for the committee. "This Policy Brief presented one view among conservatives on U.S. copyright law. Due to an oversight in our review process, it did not account for the full range of perspectives among our members. It was removed from the website to address that concern."

Public Knowledge suggested it was more than just an oversight. "It's amazing how quickly good ideas about copyright law can be squashed by incumbent interests in the entertainment industry," said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge.

An MPAA spokesperson had not returned calls and emails for comment at presstime, but Stressle maintained that was not the case. "I know some want to point fingers elsewhere," he said, "but the simple fact is that we screwed up, we admitted it, and we hope people will now use this opportunity to engage in polite and serious discussion of copyright law."

The report, titled, "Three Myths About Copyright Law and Where to Start to Fix it," identified those myths as being that copyright was meant to compensate the creators of the content, that it is free market capitalism in action and that the current copyright regime leads to "the greatest innovation and productivity."

Sounding more like a paper from fair use fans Public Knowledge and citing the length of copyright protections -- the life of the author plus 70 years and for corporate copyright, 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication -- the report ripped into the regime. It brands the system an overprotective, government-subsidized monopoly that has slowed the creation of works by DJs and the remix industry, hurt scientific inquiry, "stifled" the creation of libraries, discouraged new industries that could use public domain content for "value-added" works and penalized journalists by protecting incriminating information.

Among its proffered solutions: 1) Reduce the damages for infringement -- "in a world where everyone copies stuff at home all the time, the idea that your iPod could make you liable for a billion dollars in damages is excessive," the report says; 2) expand fair use; 3) punish false copyright claims; and 4) limit copyright terms and create a disincentive for renewing them (the paper suggests a 12-year copyright and renewals up to 10 years, but at an escalating price to 10% of all revenue for the 10-year version).

It seemed an unusual paper to come from a group of Republican legislators given its harsh criticisms of content creation and stirring defense of fair use. But it does dovetail more with an extreme position on limiting the federal government. In addition, the battle over content protection and piracy that culminated in the defeat of SOPA/PIPA has not split along party lines, with Northern California reps from both parties criticizing Hollywood for trying to overprotect content and the expense of their Internet constituencies.