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Hearing of the Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee - The Register's Call for Updates to U.S. Copyright Law


Location: Washington, DC

Chairman Goodlatte: This afternoon, we hear from the Register of Copyrights about her ideas for updating U.S. Copyright law.

Based upon Article One, Section Eight of the U.S. Constitution, our nation's intellectual property laws strive to balance the rights of creators to protect their works with promoting the progress of science and the useful arts. Given the importance of intellectual property to our nation's economy, it is critical that our copyright laws reflect the modern economy. The software developer in Silicon Valley, the songwriter in Nashville, and the documentary film maker in Los Angeles all rely upon such laws as do those who use copyrighted works for personal, scholarly, or educational use.

Few would doubt that keeping U.S. copyright law current is complicated by rapidly changing technology. The last major revision to the Copyright Act occurred in 1976 when the more advanced 8-track tape was pushing aside the less advanced reel-to-reel tapes in the audio marketplace. The mid-1970's were also the time that cutting edge VHS and Betamax videotapes were introduced. Good luck finding any of those videotapes today. Since the 1976 Act was in fact developed over a number of years in the 1960's and 1970's, it was truly a copyright law written for the analog era.

The world has obviously changed a great deal since 1976. Consumers now routinely acquire intellectual property only in digital formats. They purchase apps and music files on their phones, and watch streamed videos on their laptops and tablets. The notion of acquiring content on a physical item like a disk is rapidly becoming as outdated as an 8-track tape.

Just over two weeks ago, the Register of Copyrights gave a lengthy lecture at Columbia Law School entitled "The Next Great Copyright Act." In her lecture, she called upon Congress to consider making a large number of changes to U.S. copyright law as part of a wholesale revision of the 1976 Act.

I have been personally involved in several updates to copyright law since 1976 and understand the importance of keeping our copyright laws current.

Clearly, the Register's call to revise, rather than update, the Copyright Act is one that is certain to hearten some and, quite frankly, scare others. However, my views on the merits, or lack thereof, of a major overhaul depend not upon the scale of the effort required, but upon the merits of doing so. I welcome the Register's thoughts into which she has clearly put a great deal of effort. I also welcome the thoughts of other Members of this Committee, as well as the thoughts of the copyright world - many of whom I do not expect to be shy with their views.

Ultimately, however, the Committee will look to the words of the Constitution to weigh any proposed changes to our nation's copyright laws -- "Congress shall have the 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.

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