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Republican staffer fired for copyright reform suggestions

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A Republican staffer who wrote a position paper suggesting that the current system of copyright legislation might benefit some market-based reform has been summarily fired.

Last month the Republican Study Committee, an influential group made up of members of the US House of Representatives, put out a position paper saying that the current system "violates nearly every tenet of laissez faire capitalism" and instead ensures government-enforced monopolies rather than competitive stimulation.

Excessive fines for copyright infringement harm innovation, wrote Derek Khanna, a 24-year-old staffer with the RSC, since they mean larger companies can sue startups out of business. The unusually long copyright period of 75 years plus the author's life breaks the statutes set out by America's Founding Fathers "for a limited copyright – not an indefinite monopoly," he wrote.

Khanna's paper wasn't advocating abandoning the whole system, or even changing the underlying principles of copyright law. Rather, he suggested that from an efficiency perspective the current system could do with some tuning alongside the basic principles of competition that are supposed to drive modern economics.

The paper went out on a Friday night, but Washington never sleeps, and it was pulled less than 24 hours later after people started noticing that someone was making sense. The RSC told El Reg that the withdrawal was because the paper had not been fully finished and was intended as one part of a position piece, not a finished document.

However, by a curious coincidence Mr. Khanna has now been given his walking papers. It's expected that staffers are let go in January, as the new administration opens for business, but Khanna was shown the door early because of the paper, the Washington Examiner reports.

Two sources within the RSC told the paper that Khanna's was fired after complaints from Republican Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who received large amounts of campaign finance from the media industry, and from media industry lobbyists. The RSC hasn't replied to our request for comment.

There is the faint possibility that Khanna deliberately put the paper up as a lampoon, knowing he was going to be fired. At this hack's last firm, the soon-to-be-downsized staff of PC Direct managed to sneak an entire issue full of such howlers into the last printing as a revenge on management.

But at a time when the Republican Party is supposed to be considering how to broaden its base, it's a worrying sign when even the slightest hint of slippage from the party line is punished so harshly. For a party that claims to be all about the free market, it has a very odd way of showing it. ®

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