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House Judiciary Chair Goodlatte Promises “Consensus” Copyright Reform (Finally) Coming Soon

2Although copyright law is in desperate need of a 21st century overall, congress has been wary of any such update after the SOPA outcry in 2012…until now. A recent statement from Rep. Bob Goodlatte revealed that new proposals will soon be forthcoming, although whether or not they'll actually improve copyright law remains to be seen.


Guest Post by Mike Masnick on Techdirt

Congress has mostly stayed away from any attempt at copyright reform since the great SOPA blackout of 2012, afraid that anything will set off the public again. However, in 2013, Copyright Register Maria Pallante called on Congress to create the "next great copyright act" designed to update copyright for the 21st century. The House Judiciary Committee has been holding hearings and roundtables every few months since then, some of which have been more encouraging than others.

Copyright law is clearly broken and a true fix for the 21st century would be welcome. But what are the chances that Congress would actually do a good job, rather than make it worse? Well, we may soon find out. Yesterday, Rep. Bob Goodlatte put out a statement and a video claiming that they're finally ready to start releasing some proposals:

Goodlatte lists out a bunch of things that have been discussed, and then notes that he'll be focused initially on releasing proposals where he believes there is some "consensus":

In the weeks ahead, we will identify areas where there is a likelihood of potential consensus and circulate outlines of potential reforms in those areas. Then we will convene stakeholders for further work on these potential reforms.

And you have my personal commitment that as the review shifts to more focused work on potential reforms, the process will be transparent and the Committee will continue to ensure that all interested parties have the opportunity to weigh in on issues of concern to them. Our copyright system deserves no less.

The way that's put obviously sounds better than the way things have been done in the past, where the legacy industry basically wrote the bills for Congress, and our elected officials just put their names on it. But I'm still concerned with the framing of this whole thing. Goodlatte's talk continues to falsely suggest that copyright policy is about copyright holders vs. the public:

…it is critical that Congress understand the overall impact of any changes in copyright law before proceeding with formally introduced legislation. It is also clear that neither a solely copyright owner focused bill, nor a copyright user focused bill, could be enacted by Congress today, nor should they be.

But, again, as we've been explaining for years, thinking of copyright in such zero sum terms is the wrong way to go about it. A proper copyright system, focused on "promoting the progress of science" shouldn't put the best interests of either party at risk. These interests should be aligned. The public benefit of copyright should be to encourage creators to create and for that content to spread and be experienced. We should be looking at what kinds of policies best lead to that outcome. Instead, because of past history and the mental framework that the Judiciary Committee has had since the beginning, it seems that they want to set this up as a fight between Hollywood (representing "copyright holders") and the tech industry (which they're using as a weak and misleading proxy for "the public.") The actual public is not involved. Nor are many actual creators.

There are, of course, cynical political reasons for doing this. Congress learned years ago that if you want to get a big pile of donations, the best thing to do is to hint at a bill that would put two large industry in conflict with one another. Then both feel compelled to fund politicians campaign warchests.

But that leads to bad policy. It leads to policy based on the interests of funders and industry, rather than the public. Again, the purpose of copyright law is to benefit the public by creating incentives for content creators. The interests of content creators and the public should (and absolutely could) be aligned in all of this. Let's create systems that encourage the creation and distribution of content, without treating the public as criminals.

Let's hope that's actually what Goodlatte and the Judiciary Committee have in mind, but from the framing he has used so far, I'm concerned that what comes out of this is likely to be something else.

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