Last week the US Republican Study Committee (RSC) released a wide ranging report on copyright reform. Within 24 hours it disowned the report, after what is widely believed to be pressure from industry lobby groups the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), who have a major interest in maintaining the status quo.
The speed at which the redaction was made is an indication of these lobby groups’ power.
The RSC is one of the Republican Party’s primary policy making bodies. It is a caucus of right wing members of the Republican Party in the US House of Representatives. It is known for its economic conservatism and small government policies. It has close links to many conservative associations, including the National Rifle Association, the Heritage Foundation, and the Cato Institute.
The report was entitled “Three Myths about Copyright Law and Where to Start to Fix it”. It discussed the problems of existing copyright law very succinctly, and outlined how those problems might be addressed. By any standards it was a rational and well-argued summary of what many proponents of copyright law reform have been saying for some time.
It was written by RSC staffer Derek Khanna. Soon after its release on Friday the libertarian blogosphere was praising its suggestions for reform of copyright law. But it was redacted on Saturday and pulled from the RSC’s website – but not before it had been downloaded and saved to many other sites.
The retraction of the report has led to much speculation as to the reasons for doing so. No-one believes RSC executive director Paul Teller’s excuse that it had been inadequately reviewed and did not meet the RSC’s standards. The hands of the RIAA and MPAA are all over it, though they deny having put the RSC under pressure.
The paper is important because it represents the first major policy suggestion from either US political party that copyright law is broken and needs to be fixed. The Republican Party is the party of free enterprise, with a major libertarian wing that is in favour of freer markets. But dark hands have been at work, and the ideas outlined in the paper will not become party policy, at least not for now.
There is a significant amount of commentary online about the paper and its withdrawal. The paper itself is worth reading as an overview of the arguments in favour of copyright reform. It appeals to the initial intentions of the Constitution and the USA’s “Founding Fathers”, which have the status of holy write in today’s Republican Party
Read an extract from the paper and its "three myths" on the next page