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Graphic Artists Guild

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2013: Laying the Groundwork for Copyright Review

In A Look Back at Copyright Review in 2013, Terry Hart of the Copyright Alliance outlines the groundwork which could provide a basis for a fundamental review of US copyright law. The Copyright Act of 1976 is outdated – the last large amendment to the act was the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. In March of 2013, in a lecture given at Columbia University, Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante issued a call for a comprehensive overhaul of US copyright law. Shortly afterwards, she was invited to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on the topic.

Terry Hart headshot

The Committee, chaired by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, made copyright review a high priority, and scheduled numerous hearings throughout the year. The first covered an academic project, “The Copyright Principles Project”, which sought to find consensus among a number of legal educators on copyright review.  It was a disappointment for artists that not one creator was invited to testify. Following the theme, “Innovation in America,” the two subsequent hearings covered “The Role of Copyrights” and “The Role of Technology”. Copyright Alliance Executive Director Sandra Aistars testified at the first these hearings, arguing that copyright for creators is about empowerment, choice, and freedom.

A fourth hearing by the committee covered the “Role of Voluntary Agreements in the US Intellectual Property System” — private initiatives to address piracy and counterfeiting (but unfortunately not the role of search engines in facilitating piracy). At their final hearing on copyright issues, the committee addressed “The Rise of Innovative Business Models: Content Delivery Methods in the Digital Age.” This last hearing, according to the Alliance, “saw perhaps the most substantive discussion of copyright doctrine so far.”

Other government agencies were also very active in the copyright review arena. The Department of Commerce released “Copyright Policy, Creativity, and Innovation on the Digital Economy”, a paper produced jointly by both US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the National Telelcommunications and Information Administration which gave a substantive review of copyright law. The paper was three years in the making, and addressed the question of whether current copyright law is addressing the needs of creators in light of rapid technological advances in computing and networking. In October, the USPTO asked for input from stakeholders on key issues identified in the paper, such as statutory damages for secondary infringement and individual filesharers, and improving the notice and takedown system.

The Copyright Office also released two reports on copyright issues. The first recommended the establishment of a small claims court within the office. (The Guild testified before the Copyright Office on the small claims issue and is quoted in the report.) The second report recommended the establishment of a resale royalty on original works of fine art, as is currently done in 70+ countries worldwide. 2014 promises to continue to be an active year in copyright review; the Judiciary Committee has already scheduled three hearings on the topic in January.

Portrait of Terry Hart used with his permission.



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