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Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Head of US Copyright Office wants reform

This afternoon the US Committee on the Judiciary will hear from Maria Pallante, head of the US Copyright Office, on "The Register's Call for Updates to U.S. Copyright Law". Pallante's message is simple: the law is showing the strain of its age and requires the attention of Congress.

Pallante says that "a central equation for Congress to consider is what does and does not belong under a copyright owner’s control in the digital age. I do not believe that the control of copyright owners should be absolute, but it needs to be meaningful. People around the world increasingly are accessing content on mobile devices and fewer and fewer of them will need or desire the physical copies that were so central to the 19th and 20th century copyright laws."
The list of issues which need to be addressed will surprise no-one: clarifying the scope of exclusive rights, revising exceptions and limitations for libraries and archives, addressing orphan works, accommodating persons who have print disabilities, providing guidance to educational institutions, exempting incidental copies in appropriate instances, updating enforcement provisions, providing guidance on statutory damages, reviewing the efficacy of the DMCA, assisting with small copyright claims, reforming the music marketplace, updating the framework for cable and satellite transmissions, encouraging new licensing regimes, and improving the systems of copyright registration and recordation.

When it comes to specific changes to be made to the Copyright Act, Pallante suggests that the copyright term be reduced from 70 years plus life to 50 years plus life. A small reduction, but one which Pallante hopes will "alleviate some of the pressure and gridlock" on copyright.
She goes on to suggest that instead of the general principle that copyright owners should grant prior approval for the reproduction and dissemination of their works, the law be flipped so that copyright owners would need to specifically opt out to prevent certain uses. It seems that this suggestion could be viewed as a radical change to copyright law which Pallante discusses only in relation to educational institutions and libraries but which has the potential to go further. Alternatively it could simply be seen as an extension of the fair use exception, even though Pallante does not use those words.

Although Pallante's statement is general and on the surface uncontroversial, and any changes implemented will not happen any time soon, it is good to see that the US is looking to modernise its copyright laws, and will be interesting to see what (if any!) changes are made.
Pallante's statement can be found in full here.

For those who are interested, all House Judiciary Committee hearings are webcast live here. At 15:30 EST (19.30 GMT) on 21 March 2013, Pallante will testify before the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet on amending the U.S. Copyright Act.

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