This weekend the Republican Study Committee posted, and then quickly retracted, a paper critical of copyright. Leaving aside the poorly reasoned policy positions articulated there, the political reaction to the paper is perhaps even more telling about how copyright issues are considered these days than what the paper itself had to say.
My colleagues in the copyright community may disagree with me, but I personally would have preferred that the RSC leave the paper up. A group that calls themselves a “study” committee should, after all, study the issues. My only request would have been that academics who have actually studied the impact of copyright law on creators and innovators in the creative industries be given equal time. You can read some of the ways in which copyright works to empower creative upstarts (small creative businesses) around the world, and the copyright reforms academics who have spent years researching such effects would suggest here and here and here.
RSC spokesman Brian Staessle's hope that "people will now use this opportunity to engage in polite and serious discussion of copyright law" seems to have fallen on deaf ears. In the wake of the paper’s retraction we were treated to political posturing by Techdirt, BoingBoing and Daily Kos, who all apparently view copyright and the livelihoods of creative individuals and businesses as just one more political chip in the quest for the youth vote, rather than an actual policy issue to be understood and finally judged on the merits.
And that at the end of the day is what is troubling about discussing copyright law these days. It has become a political game when copyright law is actually a body of law that affects real human beings in an immediately tangible way. It gives creators and experiencers of works a range of choices of how to interact with one another. It is likely that you are in fact both a creator and an experiencer of copyrighted works. Copyright law is not a zero sum game. It is not a game at all. It is someone’s life and livelihood. Maybe yours. Study it.