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Republicans Release 'Sensible' Copyright Memo, Then Recalls It

Posted by: , 14:42 AEDT, Thu November 22, 2012

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Republican caucus group releases memo calling for copyright reform and an end to "corporate welfare", but withdraws it 24 hours later
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Image/Photo Credit: VinothChandar (Creative Commons)

A curious thing happened last Friday. The Republican Study Committee (RSC), a caucus containing more than 160 conservative House of Representative Republicans, apparently released a memo that challenges the pro-copyright view that perpetuates around Washington.

The memo (a copy of which can be read below) titled "Three Myths about Copyright Law and Where to Start to Fix it" was written by RSC staffer Derek Khanna, a 24-year-old Georgetown Law student, questioned the real rationale behind copyright law, whether it is just a form of "corporate welfare", or is it supposed to serve the "public good".

Khanna attacks today's common misconception that copyright is merely a system to guarantee compensation for creators, but instead refers to the Constitution which defined the purpose of the copyright system as a means to "promote the progress of science and useful arts". In other words, copyright should be used to promote innovation, even if it comes at the expense of compensation.

The second myth that Khanna tackles is the one which assumes copyright is essential to free-market capitalism. Khanna argues that far from being a cornerstone of conservative economic ideology, the copyright system "violates nearly every tenet of laissez faire capitalism". In Khanna's view, copyright is a government guaranteed, instituted entitlement system. And by creating laws which call for statutory damages that is "disproportionate" to actual damages, as well as tasking government agencies to investigate and stop copyright violations, the entitlement system essentially becomes a government subsidized monopoly.

And as for copyright helping to foster innovation and productivity, Khanna says that as opposed to the common view that innovation and productivity can only occur when copyright provides creators with incentives to create, the reality is that it is much more of a balancing act. Too much copyright protection could stifle the very things that it was designed to protect, and could lead to "what economists call 'rent-seeking' which is effectively non-productive behavior that sucks economic productivity and potential from the overall economy."

While the views espoused by Khanna are not controversial in the grand scheme of things, they are indeed controversial coming from the caucus of a major political party, which in the last decade or so have completely sided with the rightholder's argument that more, not less, copyright protection is needed.

And perhaps due to this controversial view, and to lobbyist pressure according to sources that contacted Arstechnica, the RSC withdrew the memo less than 24 hours later. The RSC cited "an oversight in our review process" that allowed a memo that only showed one perspective in the copyright argument to be published for the removal.

But it was too late. The memo managed to do exactly what it had intended, to start up a conversation about the purpose and fairness of copyright. Over the last few days, the memo has been discussed ad infinitem on blogs, on social media, and even by prominent politicians, including House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Darrell Issa of California, calling the memo a "very interesting copyright reform proposal" on Twitter.

Only time will tell if the withdrawn memo can lead to a real debate within political circles in Washington, or whether this small act of embracing the Internet culture, and rebelling against Hollywood that has time and time again sided with Democrats, could be the Republican's new weapon to win back young and tech savvy voters, and conservatives that think like Mr. Khanna.


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