The U.S. House Judiciary Committee plans to undertake “a comprehensive review” of copyright law in coming months.
The committee will hold several hearings on U.S. copyright law to see if current laws are still effective in the digital age.
“There is little doubt that our copyright system faces new challenges today,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said during a recent speech at the Library of Congress. “The Internet has enabled copyright owners to make available their works to consumers around the world, but has also enabled others to do so without any compensation for copyright owners. Efforts to digitize our history so that all have access to it face questions about copyright ownership by those who are hard, if not impossible, to locate. There are concerns about statutory license and damage mechanisms. Federal judges are forced to make decisions using laws that are difficult to apply today. Even the Copyright Office itself faces challenges in meeting the growing needs of its customers – the American public.”
“There is much work to be done,” he added.
The announcement by the chairman was welcome news for many involved in the sector, but there is little doubt some tensions will exist between competing interests.
“We welcome a public conversation about modernizing the copyright laws,” Cary Sherman, CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, said in response to the announcement. “The Chairman is certainly right that advances in technology, the emergence of new business models, and a whole range of changes in the marketplace generally have left some key elements of the copyright laws outdated.”
Sherman also says that copyright laws need to be balanced, and reflect the rights of both the public and artists who create content. The laws, in addition, need to be “modern, streamlined and ensure that all creators are paid a fair market rate for their work. They must work more efficiently – not only for creators, but for users and service providers as well.”
Other comments in response to the announcement came from Public Knowledge’s Sherwin Siy, the organization’s vice president of Legal Affairs.
"We are glad that, like many others, Chairman Goodlatte recognizes the need to examine our copyright laws, which were last overhauled more than 30 years ago and last given a major update 15 years past,” Siy said in a statement. "As the Chairman has noted, changes in technology may require significant changes in how the law works. Increasingly, we've seen how copyright law can touch, and often be a barrier to, everyday individuals' ordinary uses of media. Public Knowledge and others have identified a number of changes to copyright law that would restore balance and trust in our copyright laws in our Internet Blueprint.”
"We welcome the Chairman's proposal to examine how best our copyright laws can, as the Constitution requires, promote the progress of science and the useful arts. As such, we hope that Congress and the Copyright Office will work to balance the interests of artists with those of their audiences and the public in general, ensuring that the ultimate goal of the law is met in promoting innovation and creativity. Alongside audiences, consumers, and other members of the public, we look forward to being part of this critical discussion," he added.
Looking at the big picture, Maria A. Pallante, U.S. registrar of copyrights, recently said in a speech at Columbia Law School, “In a framework as dynamic as copyright, it is not unreasonable and probably prudent for Members of Congress to legislate carefully in response to technological innovation rather than in real time. Congress needs to see the evolution of technology and related businesses with some objectivity, and to consider, as appropriate, the rulings and the frustrations of the courts, before it can move forward. When it is ready to move, however, Congress should do so with both great deference to the principles of the past and great vision for the future…I would like to encourage Congress not only to think about copyright law but to think big. The next great copyright act is as exciting as it is possible.”
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