Copyright Reform Suggestions, part 2

They are almost five months old but now, and I meant to point them out a long time ago, but the six-point proposal for copyright reform released by Public Knowledge is well worth reading, studying and mailing to your local Congressman.

As has been said before on this site, it is probably passed time that our copyright law be throughly revised and made flexible enough to address new technologies that have come into existence since 1978 as well as to anticipate and accommodate those that have yet to be invented or widely-used. But there is not a lot of political will to undertake a comprehensive copyright reform these days, and the overwhelming influence the biggest content companies seem to wield with major players in Congress suggests that comprehensive reform might do more harm to the interests of consumers and, especially, educators, then good. Until we can reasonable hope for through-going reform in a positive direction, the kind of incremental changes suggested by Public Knowledge seem like the best direction to focus our energies. Although it is fair to call these proposed reforms “more modest,” some of them would be quite radical in practice.

Two of the suggestions made by Public Knowledge will be quite familiar to those who follow copyright issues — fair use reform that would make the four factor test more usable and sensible in today’s digital environment and orphan works legislation to reduce the risk of making productive, socially beneficial works that are not currently subject to commercial availability and whose rights owners are AWOL. One proposal that I have not written about before in this space, but have discussed elsewhere, is that copyright holders should be required to give notice to consumers whenever they are imposing contractual or technological restrictions on a work that takes it outside of the uses reasonable expected under copyright law with its exceptions, including fair use. The principle that consumers should know what they are buying and whether they an use it for reasonably foreseeable purposes is actually quite basic in our commercial law, and neither contracts nor DRM systems should be allowed to defeat reasonable expectations of a purchaser without prior notice.

All of these suggestions — the remaining three are limits on secondary liability, protections against copyright abuse and simplified, fairer licensing rules — deserve our attention and support, at least until a more comprehensive and fair reform of copyright seems possible.