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Republicans deny Hollywood pressure to pull copyright proposal

Paper only had half the story apparently

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The Republican Study Committee, an influential caucus made up of members of the US House of Representatives, has denied pulling a policy paper calling for a reform of the existing patent system under pressure from lobbyists.

The policy paper, entitled Three Myths about Copyright Law and Where to Start to Fix it, looked at assumptions that are built into the current debates on copyright. The first myth is that copyright is there to recompense inventors, where in fact the Constitution states that they are designed for the advancement of science, with inventors getting only limited compensation rights.

The second myth is that copyright is part of the free market. In fact, the author suggests that currently "it violates nearly every tenet of laissez faire capitalism" by installing a government-regulated monopoly for the rights holder. The current system awards "vastly disproportionate" damages and leads to the government having to stump up the bill for commercial cases.

Finally the report skewers the idea that the current system encourages innovation. Instead the current system is doing more harm than good, the author suggests, since the massive increase in the scale and scope of copyright is holding back some innovations for legal reasons.

"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," the author Derek Khanna, an RSC staffer, concluded.

"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."

The report recommends reform of the current system of copyright damages, a much shorter limit to the life of any copyright, reexamining what constitutes fair use, and the introduction of damages for false copyright claims, something that would cause the RIAA severe headaches.

The paper, released on Friday, unsurprisingly kicked up something of a storm. It is not often that there are such ideas on copyright from either political party, and the Republicans haven't exactly been friends with those calling for a reform of the current system. So the web went really nuts when the RSC pulled the report within 24 hours of publication.

"One needn’t be a detective to conclude that the retraction had less to do with the lack of an 'adequate review' and balance and more with entertainment lobbyists coming down on the RSC like a ton of bricks," wrote Gigi Sohn, founder of the Public Knowledge think-tank.

"The defeat of SOPA and PIPA was bad enough – but a paper that would start serious discussion of bringing balance back to copyright law so that it once again accomplishes the Constitutional purpose of "promot[ing] the progress of science and the useful arts?" That was too much for the industry to bear."

But no so fast says the RSC – Hollywood lobbyists had nothing to do with it. Instead, the group told El Reg, the paper was published accidentally as a view of one side of the Republican caucus' thinking on the issue and didn't "account for the full range of perspectives among our members."

"I know some want to point fingers elsewhere, but the simple fact is that we screwed up, we admitted it, and we hope people will now use this opportunity to engage in polite and serious discussion of copyright law," said Brian Straessle from the RSC. ®

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