"He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper [(candle)] at mine, receives light without darkening me."
- Thomas Jefferson, Third President of the United States
So it has come to this.
Even some Republicans are blowing the whistle on the absurd claims being pushed by the Copyright Cartels with a new blistering report by the Republican Study Committee.
The report details three myths:
1. The purpose of copyright is to compensate the creator of the content:It is on point 3 that the report dives into some of the more unfortunate consequences of copyright regime such as thwarting progress in music, science, digital libraries, and the use of copyright to protect state secrecy.
It’s a common misperception that the Constitution enables our current legal regime of copyright protection – in fact, it does not.
2. Copyright is free market capitalism at work:
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.
3. The current copyright legal regime leads to the greatest innovation and productivity...
The policy response, according to the committee, should promote limiting damages from infringement, expanding fair use, punishing false claims, and heavily limiting the terms of a copyright with discentives for renewal.
Conclusion: 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.Obviously this echoes the libertarian rather than the progressive argument against "intellectual property" - an argument where the dangers of empowering the state rather than the destruction of the commons takes center stage. Nonetheless this is a positive development for those that value an open society as this report signals further congressional opposition to SOPA-like crackdown schemes hatched by the Copyright Cartels.
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.
Before celebrating too loudly it is worth noting some of the political calculus at work.
Reading the report, or just the cliff notes here, one not need to strain oneself to see a larger agenda of limiting torts nor is it without merit to note that there is some political strategy in this position as noted elsewhere:
For Republicans, opposition to new intellectual property enforcement is starting to look like a political winner. It pleases conservative bloggers, appeals to young swing voters, stokes the culture wars and drives a wedge between two Democratic constituencies, Hollywood and Silicon Valley.Obviously a bit of an overstatement (the article is from February 2012) given that young swing voters went for Obama and any feud within those constituencies did not prevent fundraising for Democrats from the entertainment or tech industry - not surprising given that when industries feel threatened they contribute more not less money to decision makers. But questioning the motives of political actors usually makes sense.
So, in the final analysis, the copyright system is fundamentally broken and the more desperate the special interests get in trying to empower it (SOPA) the more clear it is that the time for reform is now. Is this an opportunity for bipartisanship?