Copyright law has been a contentious issue in the U.S. and abroad for some time, but the various factions involved have fought more or less to a stalemate, preserving a status quo that many argue is both failing to protect copyright holders and allowing predatory lawsuits against minor copyright infractions. Many Silicon Valley liberals have lobbied against the current copyright system for some time, but a new group of conservatives have joined the fray, creating the possibility that some headway could be made toward meaningful copyright reform.
The current state of affairs may seem to weigh heavily toward large industries that purchase the rights to individual creators’ works, especially given how hard the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) fight against any change to the status quo. However, piracy still runs rampant; with one 2012 survey stating that “57% of global PC users pirate software, up from 42% in 2011.” Copyright law in its current form is neither protecting content producers from having their work stolen, nor encouraging artists to produce any more than they normally would. What it does do, however, is levy huge punitive damages against a very small number of unlucky infringers.
This economic argument is what drives conservatives such as Richard Posner, a well-known judge on the United States Court of Appeals of the Seventh Circuit, to come out against aspects of copyright law. In addition to arguing that the current life of the author plus 70 years length for copyright is excessive and economically pointless, he states that “a narrow interpretation of fair use can have very damaging effects on creativity.” Posner is not alone; The American Conservative recently published a feature article that argues in favor of the Republican party taking up the cause of copyright reform, citing several prominent conservatives and groups as moving in that direction.
If conservative lawmakers embrace this issue and move forward with it, working with longstanding liberal copyright reform advocates, there is potential to finally make some headway toward resolving the intractable problems surrounding intellectual property law in the United States.