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The Next Great Copyright Act

On March 20, 2013, Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante, testified before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet where she advocated for an update to the copyright law.  Her testimony was based on her recent lecture at the Columbia Law School entitled the “Next Great Copyright Act.”

Highlights from her testimony included:

  • How copyright is "first for the author" and then later for the public.
  • The focus of copyright law should be on large scale piracy, rather than the teenager downloading at home.
  • On streaming she said that the public performance right needs to be made a felony, rather than a misdemeanor and that this is one of her "top 3" priorities on fixing copyright.
  • Digital Rights Management (DRM), she testified, is a form of innovation and is a required part of a functioning copyright system. 
  • The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is now fifteen years old and should be reviewed.
  • Orphan works needs a legislative solution to alleviate pressures in the copyright system.
  • The Copyright Office needs improvements on both the operational and policy sides in order to be responsive to copyright demands in the 21st century.
  • There needs to be more deliberation around digital first sale and licensing regimes.
  • The term of copyright should be changed to the life of the author plus 50 years.
  • On higher education, she testified that both fair use and licensing play a role and that higher education is very well-served by the market.  A “robust mix” of fair use and licensing will “affect the quality of curricula.”  Micro-licensing where students pay a fee should be easy and almost “invisible.”  She also said that not everything needs a license, however.  Pallante does not see a need for an education exemption in a new copyright law, but rather “forward thinking” that combines flexible language to accommodate technological changes, regulations, and “best practices developed in concert with the private sector.”

Pallante ended by saying, "Because the dissemination of content is so pervasive to life in the 21st century, the law also should be less technical and more helpful to those who need to navigate it. Certainly some guidance could be given through regulations and education, but my point is, if one needs an army of lawyers to understand the basic precepts of the law, then it is time for a new law." 

This was an oversight hearing and not attached to any specific piece of proposed legislation.  It is not known at this time whether Congress plans on overhauling the current copyright law. 

It is interesting to note that ahead of today’s hearing, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) circulated a memo laying out its priorities for copyright law.

EDUCAUSE will continue to monitor and report on this issue.