Magazine article Information Today

Through the Copyright Grinder

Magazine article Information Today

Through the Copyright Grinder

Article excerpt

Most everyone is familiar with the classic quip about not wanting to see how either sausages or laws are made. Nowhere does that seem more appropriate than in reviewing the copyright reform legislation that representatives have been proposing during the current 108th Congress. As I write this on a sunny, late-July afternoon, not less than 35 copyright-related bills are before Congress in various stages of the legislative process.

These bills deal with a number of different aspects of what has come to be called the "copyright debate." While many of these bills deal with issues that do not cross the day-to-day radar screen of many of us in the information community, some are worth knowing about.

Taxation and More

For example, there are seven proposals to change the tax treatment of copyrights and other intellectual property. These changes would allow for capital-gains treatment of certain forms of intellectual property, and enhance the value of deductions for charitable contributions of copyrights and copyrighted works. In both cases, the one to benefit from the tax treatment is the copyright creator, not necessarily a publisher, distributor, or other copyright holder. Could these encourage the retention of copyrights by creator? Or place older copyrights in the marketplace? Encourage contribution of copyrights and copyrighted works to archives and educational institutions?

Also offered is a legislative response to the Supreme Court's Eldred v. Ashcroft decision, which affirmed the Copyright Term Extension Act. The bill would prevent copyrights from being abandoned into the public domain after a 50-year period by requiring a nominal maintenance fee to be paid. Presumably, commercial copyright holders would pay the fee, while copyright holders who have no commercial interest in their copyrights would not pay the fee, moving their works to the public domain.

Another proposal would provide a copyright exemption for elementary and secondary schools to make copies of large-print works for the visually challenged. There are proposals to restructure the copyright arbitration royalty panels to "maximize the availability of creative works to the public" and to strengthen the National Film Preservation Act, allowing more classic films to be preserved and disseminated to the public.

Government Documents and the Public Domain

Two bills have been introduced that would amend Section 105 of the Copyright Act, which puts U.S. government works into the public domain. One proposal would expand the public domain by including works that are "substantially funded" by the government through grants or contracts. Another proposal would restrict the public domain by authorizing faculty members at U.S. service academies to obtain copyrights for their work and transfer those copyrights to publishers. Conflicting proposals such as these are not unusual in the politically volatile world of Congress.

A similar conflict, but on a larger and much more public stage, exists in the areas of copyright piracy, Digital Millennium Copyright Act reform, and digital consumer protection. The growth of peer-to-peer, file-sharing applications and accompanying rise in copyright infringement has outlined the contrasting positions. Copyright holders assert that they need new or strengthened laws to regulate peer-to-peer activity and/or increase penalties for infringement. Copyright users respond that current laws are adequate and that users need protection from overly restrictive practices of copyright holders. …

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