A remarkably bold policy report calling for radical changes to the copyright system has been deleted from a Republican Congressional website, just 24 hours after it was released.
In its place, the director of the conservative caucus Republican Study Committee issued a curiously ambiguous apology about a lengthy report, “Copyright reform would have far-reaching impacts, so it is incredibly important that it be approached with all facts and viewpoints in hand. As the RSC’s Executive Director, I apologize and take full responsibility for this oversight,” wrote Director, Paul Teller. Skeptics are calling the apology disingenuous, and are blaming powerful entertainment lobby groups for the abrupt flip-flop. “The idea that this was published ‘without adequate review’ is silly. Stuff doesn’t just randomly appear on the RSC website,” wrote TechDirt’s Mike Masnick.
Intellectual property reformers have been locked in a heated debate with entertainment lobbies over how to solve glaring issues with current copyright law in the age of social media. For instance, in 2010, a Bay Area mom was sued by Universal Music Group for uploading a grainy video of her son dancing to “Let’s Go Crazy,” for allegedly broadcasting the song without permission. More recently, a gaggle of A-list artists came out against a Pandora-supported law to reduce the royalty rates paid by streaming Internet services.
“Copyright violates nearly every tenet of laissez faire capitalism. Under the current system of copyright, producers of content are entitled to a guaranteed, government instituted, government subsidized content-monopoly,” stated the now-disowned report. “Most legislative discussions on this topic, particularly during the extension of the copyright term, are not premised upon what is in the public good or what will promote the most productivity and innovation, but rather what the content creators ‘deserve’ or are ‘entitled to’ by virtue of their creation.”
Given the stark language, it’s not unreasonable to believe that entertainment lobbies would have gone ballistic at an official report that laid out everything critics had been saying for years. On the other hand, there’s little incentive for an inclusive Republican caucus to say anything that bold; so, it’s equally reasonable that the organization’s director realized the unintentional impact on their entertainment allies once critics started hailing the report as a progressive milestone.
What’s deeply troubling is the speed and severity of the response. The RSC didn’t offer to update the report with a more balanced perspective; rather, it attempted to completely erase the report from the Internet. It’s hard to understand how an organization committed to intellectual honesty would choose to delete information rather than add more perspectives for discussion (of course, mirror websites have already copied the report).
If Congress can’t even consider some ideas in public, it’ll be a long time before they can ever make changes.