George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School

Principles and Priorities to Guide Congress’s Ongoing Copyright Review

Last week, CPIP published a new white paper, Copyright Principles and Priorities to Foster a Creative Digital Marketplace, by Sandra Aistars, Mark Schultz, and myself, which draws from the testimonies and scholarly writings of CPIP Senior Scholars in order to guide Congress as it continues its comprehensive review of the Copyright Act. The white paper discusses the constitutional origins of copyright protection and offers principles and priorities for Congress to consider as it moves forward with the copyright review process.

The current copyright review began in early 2013, when Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante threw down the gauntlet in her Horace S. Manges lecture by urging Congress to create “the next great copyright act.” While noting that minor legislative tweaks certainly have their place, Register Pallante suggested that it’s time for Congress to do something far more sweeping. Since then, Congress has embarked on a comprehensive review of our copyright laws, conducting over twenty hearings since mid-2013.

CPIP Senior Scholars have been actively engaged in that hearing process. Prof. Sandra Aistars (while she was CEO of the Copyright Alliance) testified on the creative community’s contributions to innovation and suggested several principles for the review process. Prof. Mark Schultz offered testimony on the scope and subject matter of copyright, and Prof. Sean O’Connor gave testimony on the failure of the DMCA’s notice-and-takedown regime.

As we discuss in the white paper, the premise of our copyright system is that copyrights are more than just incentives to create—they’re also rewards to authors for their productive labors. The Founders understood that authors’ rights and the public good are complementary, and they knew that public interests are best served when individual interests are properly secured. That understanding has proved quite prescient, as copyright today drives many innovations that provide remarkable benefits to our economy, society, and culture.

In the white paper, we propose the following organizing principles for any further work reviewing or revising the Copyright Act:

    A. Stay True to Technology-Neutral Principles and Take the Long View
    B. Strengthen the Ability of Authors to Create and to Disseminate Works
    C. Value the Input of Creative Upstarts
    D. Ensure that Copyright Continues to Nurture Free Speech and Creative Freedom
    E. Rely on the Marketplace and Private Ordering Absent Clear Market Failures
    F. Value the Entire Body of Copyright Law

We then note that these principles in turn suggest that Congress prioritize the following areas for action:

    A. Copyright Office Modernization
    B. Registration and Recordation
    C. Mass Digitization and Orphan Works
    D. Small Claims
    E. Notice and Takedown
    F. Streaming Harmonization

The ball is still rolling with the copyright review process. The House Judiciary Committee began a listening tour this fall that kicked off in Nashville and then traveled to Silicon Valley and Los Angeles. Moreover, those who testified at the earlier hearings have been invited back to meet with Committee staff and discuss any further input they might have. And the Committee is open to “any interested party” coming in to discuss their interests.

All told, this lengthy review process places Congress in a good position to take the next step in bringing us closer to Register Pallante’s “next great copyright act.” And to that end, we hope that our white paper will help Congress keep the constitutional premise of copyright protection in mind as it chooses where we go from here.

To read the full white paper, please click here.