TECH
11/28/2012 05:44 pm ET

GOP Proposes, Then Stifles, 'Shockingly Sensible' Copyright Law

On November 16th 2012 the Republican Study Committee of the House of Representatives posted a memo on its public website that revealed a “shockingly sensible” take on U.S. copyright law. The brief presented in straightforward and gory detail about how current copyright law stifles innovation and “destroys entire markets” while allowing legacy corporations to snuff competition and thrive.

But less than 24 hours later, the RSC removed the report from its website, saying as an excuse that the paper was “published without adequate review.” Several politics and technology blogs, including The Hill and CNET have assembled evidence that the paper was actually removed because House Republicans were intimidated by intense industry-led pro-copyright pressure.

Before being taken down, the report generated excitement in two not-usually-overlapping circles. On the one hand, tech-saavy sites more than a little cold to current copyright legislation grew ecstatic that any lawmakers were listening to them and praised the paper’s proposed reforms, which called for expanding fair use, disincentivizing copyright renewals and punishing false copyright claims. On the other hand, conservative commentators excitedly cited the paper’s “authentically laissez faire approach,” lauding the myriad advantages of having the Republican party take a “strong public stance on copyright reform.”

Of course, it didn’t work out that way.

Less than 24 hours after the RSC released the copyright whitepaper, the PDF vanished from the RSC’s website, replaced by a “mealy-mouthed” apology from Paul Teller, the RSC’s executive director. Tech blogs that had praised the the watershed report reacted to the takedown angrily: Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing called House Republicans “gutless” while Declan McCullagh of CNET accused them of “flip-flopping.”

Ironically it was McCullagh of CNET who first spelled out in detail why taking a strong anti-copyright stance might be good for the GOP, which tends to be less beholden to money from the entertainment industry than its more liberal counterpart, and which has a long history of critiquing Hollywood excess. American conservatives, McCullagh argued, could cite their laissez-faire roots in killing copyright over-legislation. Doing so might even help them capture the tech-saavy, surprisingly libertarian, Internet-savvy segment of the youth vote, which at this time votes overwhelmingly Democratic.

But perhaps the Grand Old Party hasn't gotten youth-saavy quite yet. One wonders how the RSC now is treating Derek Khanna, the professional RSC staffer who alone wrote the copyright brief. Khanna, under the handle @dkhanna11, is an active political tweeter, and, in retrospect, it’s no surprise that it was Khanna who wrote something so youth-targeted: The staffer was previously profiled by conservative policy newsletter Red Alert, who cited and praised his vigorous efforts to mobilize the youth vote for Republicans.

Khanna’s and the RSC’s strange silence aside, excitement about the copyright memo has not died down: Knowledge Economy International, the Massachusetts Pirate Party and the Maryland Pirate Party (the former a nonprofit focused on innovative lawmaking, the latter a pair of state-level third-parties focused on internet freedom) have covered the paper’s contents and its removal from the RSC's site.

But will online buzz be enough to keep the paper in the public eye even as the RSC seeks to disown it? Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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