GOP Chooses Big Business Over Free Markets

I don’t link to other articles and blog posts on here enough. I’m trying to do it more. So here’s a piece by Ezra Klein on former Republican Study Committee staffer Derek Khanna and his support for more relaxed intellectual property laws, starting with allowing consumers to legally unlock their cell phones and to create a backup of legally purchased DVDs. In November, Khanna wrote a memo for the RSC on how to reform copyright law. It was filled with great ideas and received widespread praise across the blogosphere. Unfortunately, Republican congressmen immediately faced significant pushback from Big Business, which is very happy with the current restrictive copyright regime. The RSC pulled the memo after a few hours and informed Khanna a few weeks later that he would not be retained at the start of the new Congress. Big Business had won.

Here’s Klein:

There’s a difference between being the party of free markets and the party of existing businesses. Excessively tough copyright law is good for big businesses with large legal departments but bad for new businesses that can’t afford a lawyer. And while Khanna, like many young conservative thinkers, believes in free markets, the Republican Party is heavily funded by big businesses.

If Republicans really were for free markets, they would openly embrace Khanna’s reforms, such as stricter term limits on copyright, expanded fair use and reduced statutory damages. These policy ideas push government policy towards free markets and less regulation. As Khanna writes at the end of his memo, “[c]urrent copyright law does not merely distort some markets – rather it destroys entire markets.”

By ignoring and refuting Khanna’s ideas, Republicans are confirming what many Americans already believe: the GOP is the party of the rich and Big Business. Republicans cannot claim to be in favor of free markets and small government when they oppose such sensible reforms that would reduce government overreach in intellectual property law. It’s hypocritical to claim otherwise. At the same time, this is the perfect opportunity for Republicans to improve their image. Supporting copyright reform would prove to Americans that they are still the party of free markets.

Alas, there have been no sign that the GOP will embrace Khanna’s ideas. As for the young Republican, he’s pushing ahead promoting intellectual property reform and just earned White House support for allowing consumers to unlock their cell phones. That’s a big victory for Khanna, but there is lots more work to be done. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like he’ll have Republican support in his pursuit of freer markets.

The Republican Study Committee’s Excellent Idea on Copyright Law

On Friday, the Republican Study Committee released a study on Copyright law that was very insightful and put forward a number of good ideas to fix the law. Unfortunately, they pulled the study just a few hours later. It’s still available from the RSC website via the Google html cache of it and if you want to see it in PDF form, the Maryland Pirates have it as well.

At the beginning of August, I wrote a blog post for the Washington Monthly titled “Online Piracy Isn’t a Problem” and went through the academic literature on online piracy of music and determined that there may be too much copyright protection. Specifically, I pointed out that copyright law is not meant to protect artists’ profits:

Copyright law is meant to create an economic bargain between artists and the public. Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution (the Copyright Clause) says,

Congress shall have Power … To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

The Constitution gives artists a limited monopoly over their work in return for the eventual dedication of it to the public domain. The law is not meant to protect artists’ profits or revenue. As long as the quality and quantity of music is not dropping, Congress has no reason to further incentivize artists. By definition, the incentives are already there.

Based on its redacted report, the Republican Study Committee agrees:

It’s a common misperception that the Constitution enables our current legal regime of copyright protection – in fact, it does not.

And:

Thus, according to the Constitution, the overriding purpose of the copyright system is to “promote the progress of science and useful arts.” In today’s terminology we may say that the purpose is to lead to maximum productivity and innovation.

This is a major distinction, because 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.

The Committee proposes reforming statutory damages, expanding fair use, creating a punishment for false copyright claims and significantly reducing the term limit for copyright. The proposal is excellent. Go read the full thing. It’s only nine pages and certainly worth the time.