A refreshing voice on copyright from a hard-core conservative

November 18, 2012 by Joshua
in Art, Blog, Creativity, Freedom

EDIT: Maybe I should have expected this. The Executive Director of the Committee pulled the document from their site, stating

We at the RSC take pride in providing informative analysis of major policy issues and pending legislation that accounts for the range of perspectives held by RSC Members and within the conservative community. Yesterday you received a policy brief on copyright law that was published without adequate review within the RSC and failed to meet that standard. Copyright reform would have far-reaching impacts, so it is incredibly important that it be approached with all facts and viewpoint in hand. As the RSC’s Executive Director, I apologize and take full responsibility for this oversight. Enjoy the rest of your weekend and a meaningful Thanksgiving holiday …

Paul Teller
Executive Director
U.S. House Republican Study Committee


I guess all the reasonableness I saw in the document was too much to ask for. The document was pulled from the RSC site. I replaced the links to that page with links to a stored copy here. (Wikipedia cites a law that “Works ‘prepared by an officer or employee of the U.S. government as part of that person’s official duties‘ are automatically in the public domain by law, so I think the document is in the public domain. In any case, an html version is on Google too.)

EDIT 2: For scandalous follow-up, see link at bottom.

My original post

Please read this document — “RSC Policy Brief: Three Myths about Copyright Law and Where to Start to Fix it” — if you have the slightest interest in culture and how government can help or hurt it. You should read both, but if you have to choose between this post and that report, read the report. But read both, anyway.

As government-granted monopolies tend to do, copyright has twisted politics into ways you wouldn’t expect. People from all political stripes have come to view copyright like a guaranteed entitlement with no understanding of the system the Constitution and its framers created that worked well for centuries before recent changes. Oddly, large parts of both major U.S. parties support giving more power to copyright holders, hurting the artists they claim to help. They may well believe they are helping artists, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Though counter-intuitive, such agreement across the political spectrum makes sense when you realize that businesses and industries maintain their cash cows by supporting government increasing their copyright.

Those who lose when copyright monopolies increase — artists, writers, musicians, directors, script-writers, and, beyond individuals, industries that don’t yet exist — have minimal voice, so few legislators feel motivation to maintain the balance the U.S. Constitution created.

The people who wrote the U.S. Constitution understood how monopolies tend to expand and tried to contain copyright-created monopolies. Centuries of one-sided lobbying continues to overcome their containment.

The flip-side to across-the-board corporate support for giving more control to copyright holders is widespread grass-roots or small-government support for returning to the limited control the framers of the Constitution started with, which were less than one-tenth as long as now.

Case in point: Ohio representative Jim Jordan — according to Wikipedia, “among the most conservative Republicans, earning a perfect score from the American Conservative Union — on Friday published a remarkable report. From my first casual glance, it nailed the problems with copyright today accurately and effectively with a report called “RSC Policy Brief: Three Myths about Copyright Law and Where to Start to Fix it” (click for the report).

It comes from some organization called the Republican Study Committee, which is, according to Wikipedia,

a caucus of over 170 conservative members of the Republican Party in the United States House of Representatives. Though the primary functions of the Republican Study Committee vary from year to year, it has always pushed for significant cuts in non-defense spending, advocated socially conservative legislation, and supported the right to keep and bear arms. In 2010, the Committee pushed for $25 billion in budget cuts to non-existent government programs.

Anyway, I highly recommend reading the report. It’s nine pages — short enough for a quick read, but too long to quote entirely here.

Some highlights from the report

Myth 1. The purpose of copyright is to compensate the creator of the content

The Constitution’s clause on Copyright and patents states: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;” (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8)

… 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. This lexicon is appropriate in the realm of taxation and sometimes in the realm of trade protection, but it is inappropriate in the realm of patents and copyrights.

I agree!

When someone says “artists deserve to be paid for their work” all you have to do is read the Constitution to realize they don’t understand what the framers of the Constitution did. They wrote the law not to entitle people to money by the mere act of creation. They wrote it to promote progress for society, not to entitle handouts.

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

… [the current system] is a system implemented and regulated by the government, and backed up by laws that allow for massive damages for violations. These massive damages are not conventional tort law damages, but damages that are vastly disproportionate from the actual damage to the copyright producer.

I agree again!

Anyone who thinks copyright is natural or would exist without the government granting it doesn’t understand copyright. Copyright commits the government to help one person stop everyone else in the country from doing something. Actually, not just the country, since the U.S. government has found ways to enforce its law outside its borders, which happens when industries built on government-granted monopolies get big enough. They do what they can to protect their monopoly, which means expanding as much as possible.

I don’t quote this part, but he mentions how the American colonies were once on the other side of the U.S. government’s present position, which is more like the England we fought and died to gain independence from.

We do know that our copyright paradigm has:

A. Retarded the creation of a robust DJ/Remix industry … in the United States this culture is heavily retarded.

B. Hampering scientific inquiry …

C. Stifling the creation of a public library …

D. Discouraging added-value industries …

E. Penalizes legitimate journalism and oversight …

I agree again! … even leaving out the explanations of these points.

When an elected representative points out that our industries are retarded (!!) and that the government is making them retarded, things must be overwhelming. He points out we are using public money to (A) retard culture and industry, (B) hurt science, (C) stifle libraries, (D) discourage entrepreneurship, and (E) hurt the press.

What a disaster!

Potential Policy Solutions

1. Statutory Damages Reform …

2. Expand Fair Use … 

3. Punish false copyright claims … 

4. Heavily limit the terms for copyright, and create disincentives for renewal …

I agree again!

I won’t go into detail, but these ideas make sense to me. I don’t see them as reform so much as a return to an earlier balance that worked for centuries.

I like and agree with his conclusion:

Conclusion: To be clear, there is a legitimate purpose to copyright (and for that matter patents). Copyright ensures that there is sufficient incentive for content producers to develop content, but there is a steep cost to our unusually long copyright period that Congress has now created. Our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution with explicit instructions on this matter for a limited copyright – not an indefinite monopoly. We must strike this careful Goldilocks-like balance for the consumer and other businesses versus the content producers.

It is difficult to argue that the life of the author plus 70 years is an appropriate copyright term for this purpose — what possible new incentive was given to the content producer for content protection for a term of life plus 70 years vs. a term of life plus 50 years? Where we have reached a point of such diminishing returns we must be especially aware of the known and predictable impact upon the greater market that these policies have held, and we are left to wonder on the impact that we will never know until we restore a constitutional copyright system.

… and his coda:

Current copyright law does not merely distort some markets – rather it destroys entire markets.

So while I don’t like how he supports welfare and diverting money from defending the country, according to Wikipedia

Jordan has supported the continued production and upgrades of M1 Abrams tanks in his district over the direct objections of the Pentagon and criticism regarding the redundancy of further production.

… I agree with the views he expressed on copyright in this document.

Edit 2, continued: a couple weeks later, they fired the low-level guy who wrote the document.

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1 response to “A refreshing voice on copyright from a hard-core conservative

  1. Pingback: Scandal about that refreshing voice on copyright from a hard-core conservative » Joshua Spodek

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