Congress Begins Review of U.S. Copyright Act: Congress Has Taken the First Steps in What Is Likely to Be a Lengthy Process of Updating U.S. Copyright Law to Meet Changing Technologies and Business Models

By Harris, Lesley Ellen | Information Outlook, July-August 2013 | Go to article overview

Congress Begins Review of U.S. Copyright Act: Congress Has Taken the First Steps in What Is Likely to Be a Lengthy Process of Updating U.S. Copyright Law to Meet Changing Technologies and Business Models


Harris, Lesley Ellen, Information Outlook


On March 4, U.S. Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante presented a paper titled "The Next Great Copyright Act" at Columbia Law School. The paper noted that the 1976 Copyright Act had codified the fair use doctrine (previously, fair use was a concept employed in court cases) and created specific exceptions for libraries and archives (Congress intentionally deferred making a specific exception for educational use, concluding that it was not justified).

Shortly after presenting her paper, Pallante was asked to appear before the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet of the U.S. House of Representatives to share her perspectives on some of the points she made in her presentation. During her remarks to the subcommittee, she asked that Congress initiate a dialogue on revising the U.S. Copyright Act.

"I think it is time for Congress to think about the next great copyright act, which will need to be more forward thinking and flexible than before," she said. "A central equation for Congress to consider is what does and does not belong under a copyright owner's control in the digital age."

Pallante noted that Congress will need to consider making amendments to current law in areas such as exceptions and limitations, enforcement tools, licensing schemes, and a registration system that matches today's world.

"Congress may need to apply fresh eyes to the next great copyright act to ensure that the copyright law remains functional and relevant," she said. "This may require some bold adjustments to the general framework."

Pallante suggested that adjusting the current term of protection and allowing copyright owners to opt out of certain uses of their works by libraries or educational institutions might address concerns about pressure and gridlock. Regardless, developing a copyright law that is functional and relevant while balancing the interests of copyright owners and the public will be challenging, she said.

Encouraging Creativity

On April 24, Rep. Robert Goodlatte, chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, announced that his panel would begin reviewing the U.S. Copyright Act. Goodlatte made the announcement at a celebration marking World Intellectual Property Day at the Library of Congress.

On May 16, the Judiciary Committee convened the first hearing in this review process. Rep. Goodlatte opened the hearing by appealing for all interested parties to take a broad perspective toward copyright law. In his view, the process must take the necessary time and be of sufficient scope to review, understand and address fundamental copyright issues and their connection to the country's social and economic activities prior to addressing specific concerns.

Goodlatte stated that U.S. copyright law reform should broadly focus on ensuring the provision of cultural and economic benefits. He said the reform process must answer several questions, such as the following:

* How is the success of copyright to be measured? …

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Congress Begins Review of U.S. Copyright Act: Congress Has Taken the First Steps in What Is Likely to Be a Lengthy Process of Updating U.S. Copyright Law to Meet Changing Technologies and Business Models
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