Surprising RSC policy brief: how to fix copyright law

Two days ago, the Republican Study Committee published a surprising policy brief titled “Three Myths about Copyright Law and Where to Start to Fix it“. I’ve uploaded a copy here, as others have done on their sites, to make sure it stays available, as it has already been pulled from the RSC website. I’m not going to speculate, as Techdirt have, on the reasons behind the brief disappearing, but I thought it was worth writing something about the contents.

Very rarely do I agree with the Republicans, so I was quite surprised to read this document. Of course, I’m biased against modern copyright law, but even copyright holders who want to maintain the current level of protectionism (and go beyond) must acknowledge the accuracy of the brief.

Myth #1: “The purpose of copyright is to compensate the creator of the content.”

The RSC debunks this, writing:

…According to the Constitution, the overriding purpose of the copyright system is to “promote the progress of science and useful arts.” In today’s terminology we may say that the purpose is to lead to maximum productivity and innovation.

This is a major distinction, because most legislative discussions on this topic, particularly during the extension of the copyright term, are not premised upon what is in the public good or what will promote the most productivity and innovation, but rather what the content creators “deserve” or are “entitled to” by virtue of their creation.

Myth #2: Copyright is free market capitalism at work.

This is something I feel quite strongly about. I’m not a capitalist nor am I a socialist, but I do get very offended when people bandy these terms about to justify why something must be a particular way. An Australian Senator once described the Pirate Party as being left-wing by mistake, and accepted correction. The most extreme view regarding copyright reform — copyright abolitionism — is not a socialist perspective, it’s die-hard capitalist.

The RSC writes:

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.

A total free-for-all on the commercial exploitation of content would be a genuine free market approach. However, this is not to say that state regulation is not necessary; good governance comes from achieving a balance between different regulatory approaches.

Myth #3: The current copyright legal regime leads to the greatest innovation and productivity.

This is the most complex of the three — and I’m not going to describe it. If you’ve read this far into my modest summary, go and read the short (9 pages!) brief for yourself.

It is a shame that the Republican Study Committee is no longer standing by this brief. I understand that there are powerful lobbying forces in the United States, and that many from the copyright lobby will think it’s a good thing that such “damaging claims” are being retracted.

But I doubt anyone could fault its logic.


Author: Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer

Pirate Party Australia Deputy Secretary and Press Officer. Former member of the Pirate Parties International Court of Arbitration.