On Friday afternoon, a group of conservative lawmakers called the Republican Study Committee stunned digital rights advocates by posting a report recommending a host of reforms to copyright law.
But within 24 hours, the document, described by Techdirt as "surprisingly awesome," was retracted. RSC executive director Paul Teller reportedly justified the withdrawal on the ground that the report had been published "without adequate review."
The nine-page report sharply condemned modern copyright law. "Today’s legal regime of copyright law is seen by many as a form of corporate welfare that hurts innovation and hurts the consumer," states the report. "It is a system that picks winners and losers, and the losers are new industries that could generate new wealth and added value."
Specifically, the RSC proposed that the current law's draconian sanctions for infringement -- including damages of up to $150,000 per work -- hinder technological innovation. The report cites a $75 trillion infringement lawsuit against the peer-to-peer network Limewire as proof that the current legal framework makes no sense. "This potential award is more money than the entire music recording industry has made since Edison’s invention of the phonograph in 1877, and thus in no way corresponds to the actual demonstrated 'damages' to the record industry," the authors state.
The Republican group proposes a host of revisions that would make the law less favorable to copyright holders. Among others, the RSC says that fair use should be broadened. "Right now, it's somewhat arbitrary as to what is legally fair use based upon judicially created categories. One example: parodies are considered protected by fair use but satire is not," the report says.
The suggestions drew cheers from many observers who favor revising copyright law. Now, not surprisingly, the backtracking is raising eyebrows. But even though the RSC has withdrawn the document, it's still available online -- where the recommendations seem destined to spark debate for some time to come.