GOP copyright mystery

Brief calling for loosening of copyright law appeared then quickly disappeared

A conservative policy brief calling for loosening of copyright law that appeared — and then just as quickly disappeared — from a Republican caucus website triggered a wave of suspicion over the weekend that Hollywood D.C. pulled its weight and forced Republicans to, as one blogger noted, “chicken out.”

But the Republican Study Committee said the posting of the nine-page brief from staffer Derek Khanna, a 24-year-old Georgetown graduate, was a mistake. The brief called for reforming statutory damages, expanding fair use, penalizing false copyight claims and significantly reducing copyright terms. That it was posted on such a high-profile org’s site was, at least initially, viewed by some tech bloggers as a surprising bit of fresh air given traditional support among Democratic and Republican leadership for strengthening copyright laws.

“On issues where there are several different perspectives among our members, our Policy Briefs should reflect that,” spokesman Brian Straessle said. “This Policy Brief presented one view among conservatives on U.S. copyright law. Due to an oversight in our review process, it did not account for the full range of perspectives among our members. It was removed from the website to address that concern.”

Khanna argued the current regime is “a system that picks winners and losers, and the losers are new industries that could generate new wealth and added value.” He cited the DJ-remix industry, library digitization projects and journalism as areas that have been harmed by strict copyright law.

“Copyright violates nearly every tenet of laissez faire capitalism,” he wrote. “Under the current system of copyright, producers of content are entitled to a guaranteed, government-instituted, government-subsidized content monopoly.”

He cited the case of Limewire, found liable for thousands of cases of infringement. He cited the $75 trillion sought by the record industry, although that was a figure given in court briefs based on the $150,000-per-infringement maximum allowed for statutory damages. Khanna said such a fine “in no way corresponds to the actual ‘damages,’ to the record industry.”

His policy brief immediately earned praise on sites like TechDirt and Reddit, which long have been critical of what they see as overzealous copyright industries, as well as plenty of Twitter comment. TechDirt claimed that entertainment industry reps hit the phones Friday night and Saturday, pressuring congressional representatives to have the report pulled.

But Straessle said, “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.”

A spokesman for the MPAA referred questions to the study committee.

Mitch Glazier, senior exec VP of the RIAA, said, “We appreciate that the Republican Study Committee clarified that the polocy brief did not meet RSC standards for review by member offices and staff. While we never asked that the brief be removed from the RSC website, we understand that a decision was made to do so to allow for the appropriate process that would have otherwise taken place before issuing. Appropriately, it appears that the author is now distributing the work personally so that those who are interested may still have access to it, and that it is no longer erroneously being represented as an RSC view. Debate is important. So is appropriate attribution of views.”