Congress Will Now Consider a Major Overhaul of US Copyright Law…

Last month, the head of the US Copyright Office urged members of Congress to overhaul current copyright law, and usher in the ‘next great copyright act‘.  That may have started a snowball: on Wednesday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman and Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte promised a ‘comprehensive review of copyright law’ over the next few months, while subtly pointing to re-examinations of statutes like the DMCA.

The speech was delivered ahead of World Intellectual Property Day at the Library of Congress.

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As we mark World Intellectual Property Day today in the Jefferson Building, I would point out that the US Copyright Office first opened in this building in 1897 under the direction of our nation’s first Register of Copyrights, Thorvald Solberg, who served as Register for the next 33 years.  During his tenure as Register, Solberg oversaw the implementation of the Third Revision of America’s copyright law in 1909 that modernized the copyright law for that era in ways that seem quaint today.  For example, he oversaw the extension of copyright protection to the new technology known as motion pictures.  The 1909 Copyright Act passed through the Congressional Committee on which I serve as Chairman, the House Committee on the Judiciary.

The discussions during the early 1900s over the need to update American copyright laws to respond to new technology were not the first time such discussions occurred and they will certainly not be the last.  Formats such as photographs, sound recordings, and software along with ways to access such formats including radio, television, and the internet did not exist when the Constitution recognized intellectual property.  My Committee has repeatedly held similar discussions about new forms of intellectual property as they arose and enacted laws as appropriate.  Driven by new technologies and business models, a number of changes to copyright law went into effect in 1976.

Technology continues to rapidly advance.  Contrast how American citizens kept up with the latest news in Boston last week to when Paul Revere rode nearby to warn the local communities of the British advance in 1775.  Our Founding Fathers could never have imagined a day in which citizens would be able to immediately access the knowledge and news of the world on their smartphones as they walk down the street.

When I was first elected to Congress in 1993, only 2.5 percent of Americans had internet access and less than ¼ of one percent of the world population did.

Then, we spoke about the very few who had internet access.  Today, we speak about the few who do not. Technological development has increased at an exponential rate.

Recognizing the importance of the Internet, I was an original founder of the Congressional Internet Caucus in 1996.  Over the years, I have seen the need to better understand how new technologies impact our laws.

For example, until 1998 online service providers risked being held liable under copyright law for the actions of their subscribers over content they had no control over.

I personally spent months meeting with various interested parties in an effort to develop a legislative solution to address such problems.

Just as Register Solberg recognized the need to update of our nation’s copyright laws in the early 1900s to accommodate new technologies, our current Register, Maria Pallante, has also perceived a need to do so.  Last month, she testified before my Committee about her desire for the “next great copyright act.” Much of her testimony was about policy issues that have arisen due to the advance of technology.

There is little doubt that our copyright system faces new challenges today. 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.

So it is my belief that a wide review of our nation’s copyright laws and related enforcement mechanisms is timely.

I am announcing today that the House Judiciary Committee will hold a comprehensive series of hearings on US copyright law in the months ahead.  The goal of these hearings will be to determine whether the laws are still working in the digital age.
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I welcome all interested parties to submit their views andconcerns to the Committee.  I also look forward to working with the Register and the Copyright Office that has served Congress well since its creation over 110 years ago. There is much work to be done.

17 Responses

  1. Satan

    Let the lobbying begin.

    Everyone seems to agree that this will take years of debate to address the interests of both tech and authors. there are politicians and lobbyists in DC that are dizzy with delight thinking of all that money

  2. Visitor

    “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.”

    Indeed! Great news!

    This is the end of Google’s safe harbor abuse!

    • Satan

      I admire your enthusiasm.

      Do you believe that U.S congress will make a well reasoned correct law or a law that best serves their political donor’s interests?

      Who do you think carries more political clout right now, the tech industry or copyright owners?

      Copyright enthusiasts can text, email, call,, petition as much as they want but when it comes to writing the text of the law it is money that guides that hand

      • Visitor

        “Do you believe that U.S congress will make a well reasoned correct law or a law that best serves their political donor’s interests?”

        Which donors would that be — Google or Hollywood? 🙂

        Bottom line:

        The war between Google/Big Piracy on one side and Artists/Hollywood on the other will have exactly zero impact on the outcome.

        The purpose of copyright laws around the globe and throughout history was and is to serve Humanity and the Arts. Not greedy corporations or artists.

        And the U.S congress will eventually make what you call a well reasoned correct law — like almost every government in almost every country have done before — because such a law is the only way to protect and nourish the music, art, inventions and literature we all need.

  3. FarePlay

    I know one place we can start. A reveamp of the entire DMCA “Safe Harbor” process, which places the reponsibility on the rightful copyright owner/administrator. What an unproductive, time consuming, exercise of futility.

    This process can be changed in any number of ways, including fines for site operators that go beyond a specified threshold and UPLOADERS who consistently post content to which they have no authorization.

    Those who upload content can be easily tracked and monitored by the site operator and dealt with directly or trigger intervention by the legal system.

    Make the fines significant, but not obscene for frequent violators.

  4. Just Another Voice

    I would suggest everyone take a week and read “The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business”

    Equally, there appear to be some amongst us who might benefit from reading on process and procedure. I highly recommend the primer, “An Introduction to the Policy Process: Theories, Concepts, and Models of Public Policy Making”

    copyright laws need to be reviewed and reevaluated within the context of commerce and the right to own what it is we create out of our minds, with our “hands.” The Internet is changing the rules of copyright. This is a global issue, not one specific to the US. The Internet will be the vehicle by which the inequities of the current system are best corrected.

    • Satan

      ” The Internet will be the vehicle by which the inequities of the current system are best corrected.”

      Your faith in technology I find most reassuring.

  5. Copyright Reform

    Reduce the copyright term, reduce statutory damages and greatly expand fair use.

    • Faza (TCM)

      What purpose would that serve? It’s not like you’re terribly likely to get sued if your use is unfair and the effective copyright term is five minutes (three with a fast connection).

  6. Visitor

    Sounds good on paper, the trouble is the political environment we have now favors those who seek to dismantle, not those who seek to bolster.

    Big Tech has Big Content dead to rights not just in direct lobbying potential but also in indirect public lobbying potential (“grassroots” petitions, blackouts, astroturf from the usual suspects: EFF, PublicKnowledge, numerous tech funded academic wings, think tanks, 501c3’s, and a multitude of copyright hating echo chambers in the blogosphere that Big Content can’t even begin to match).

    There are a lot more pigs at the digital trough than there are farmers trying to kick them back, and they’ve been so long at the trough that a good many of them have mistaken it for a birthright. They will not give it up easily and will lend their support to any faction that promises to prolong the feast.

    Big Content has no such army of pigs at their disposal and the one blue ribbon betty they did have (Lars) ended up spinning over a fire with an apple in his mouth.

    Well intentioned though it may be, efforts on this front will be co-opted. Concessions will multiply. Loopholes will expand. Authors and artists of all stripes will likely find themselves worse off than before.

    • Van Gogh's Ghost

      First greedy pilferers (Not just corporations) took away houses, land, jobs, Proper healthcare, Safe workers comp etc. from the Real people – who worked hard for pittance to make Bigwigs rich. De-regulation they called it??? The small businesses, mom & pop shops, self-employed, etc suffered from More loosening of “laws” & rules. Now there are those who want to Take away Intellectual Property Rights all together and call that “fair trade”??? What are the Authors/writers/musicians who Invested time, money, creativity, etc. getting in “trade”??? If one cannot make a decent living with their “intellectual property” that They Personally INVESTED in….. and (especially when Most do NOT have houses, real estate, or huge savings to use for any semblance of Comfort) … How is this Fair??? NOT. People are willing to pay exhorbitant FEES for internet, fancy phones, fancy equipment, apps, expensive computers, speakers, headphones, etc…most of which would be Useless with NO entertainment. Yet, they don’t want to pay the rightful creators, entertainers, writers, etc.?? The Millionaires who made money off their sites with Advertising fees, do not want to take the Responsibility to check that Content being loaded is not Infringing???? Come On!! Where the hell has decency gone??? Do you think there’d be a Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Who, Bruce Springsteen, et al, if They had been tricked/conned/ or Forced to GIVE away ALL their music for free???? Music /Films/Photograph/Art Value is Subjective to the taste of individuals… If it’s dependent on Who has Money who can Afford to DO music and give it away…then how is that FAIR trade???

      How is it Fair for internet providers to NOT take responsibility for content??? Aiding and abetting federal violations is a crime in other areas of life. There are some who Cannot Afford computers or fancy equipment or even the internet fee ( more expensive – despite Wages going down & jobs getting lost). If artists/writers/filmmakers, etc. want to give away Some of their works, it would be more FAIR if they’d EARN enough to give to those who are Poor – as a gift, when They want….. Just as some benevolent people give their donations, property, etc. in wills or to charities. It is sad that there are too many musicians/writers who have very little to live on when they are alive… like Van Gogh….. Only many of the Intellectual Property owners spent Tons of money on Copyright Registration, TRUSTING that the laws would Protect them?? All Governments would bring in Huge revenues that would help their “debts” if they took Responsibility to pursue and ENFORCE the Property Protection laws for the ones who legally/rightfully own/created it (not JUST The Big Corporations or rich ones with fancy lawyers) …and give the rightful creators/performers a Fair portion of the Government Fines, as retribution. Big Corporations who Pay for Advertising on Sites, or Off-site that Infringe copyright, should be held responsible as well — and fined accordingly. That is Fair.