Thursday, November 15, 2007

Reforming Copyright Law: A Six-Step Strategy

Head's up on a great article by Anders Bylund posted on Ars Tehnica last week, on Public Knowledge's six-step plan for reforming copyright law to better protect citizen (as opposed to solely corporate) interests. The plan was presented at a New Media conference that took place recently at Boston University, and seeks to address the growing "'disconnect between the law and the technology' of media production and distribution." Said Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn,
"For the past 35 years, the trend has been nearly unmitigated expansion of the scope and duration of copyright, resulting in a clear mismatch between the technology and the law." ...Advances in technology keep making it easier to copy and distribute songs, movies, books, and so on. Meanwhile, the kind of legislation that gets big-money lobby support from content producers makes it increasingly illegal—but not necessarily harder—to use these new powers of information and entertainment.

The article goes on to describe the six solutions that Sohn proposes could be used to establish a more balanced (US) copyright system. Here's a brief overview of her key points:

1) Make fair use reform a top priority: "The US must allow for more incidental and non-commercial media uses; it is currently far too easy to break the law without knowing it."

2) Elevate the landmark 1984 Betamax decision (which acknowledged the consumer's right to record and timeshift media content for personal use at home) from mere "legal precedent" into actual law.

3) Implement and enforce limitations on the DMCA, to keep the number of takedown notices and SLAPP suits to a minimum. Included in this is the recommendation that the DMCA be reprimanded "for "knowingly or recklessly" demanding takedowns without a real case."

4) Clean up the existing music licensing system and create a clear and simple legal framework. This would include equalizing royalty rates (traditional radio currently pays lower royalties than new media channels), and making it easier to find copyright owners and obtain clearance.

5) Relax the rules around orphaned works: "You should be able to sing a song or use a picture if a "good faith copyright search" can't turn up the owner."

6) Simplify and clarify license notices to a clear and concise set of instructions, that use everyday language (not legalese) and do not misrepresent or exaggerate copyright claims.

You can read more about the organization's copyright reform campaign on their website, where you can also access a full transcript of Sohn's speech.

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