Capitalist Copyrights: A Republican Reply to “Three Myths about Copyright”

The following is a guest post by Thomas Sydnor II & Debbie Rose* Tom Sydnor served as Counsel for Intellectual Property and Technology to Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) during the 108th Congress. From 1997-2004, Debbie Rose served as Counsel to several Republican Chairmen of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property. While their paper was written in their personal capacities, both Tom and Debbie now serve as Intellectual Property Fellows to the Innovators Network, a non-profit think tank, and to the Association for Competitive Technology.

Policy disputes among technologists, content creators and other entrepreneurs can degenerate into claims that other producers’ profits decrease net social welfare and retard “Progress.” Such backfiring claims too often darken debates about copyrights and the Internet, and the Republican Study Committee should be commended for disassociating itself from them.

I. BACKGROUND

The Republican Study Committee (the “RSC”) provides “an independent research arm” with a conservative perspective to Republican Members of the House of Representatives. The RSC is widely respected for its thoughtful analyses of a wide range of public-policy issues, which are often published in Policy Briefs. But on November 16, 2012, the RSC appeared to release a rather hostile Policy Brief on copyright “reform.” It was entitled Three Myths about Copyright Law and Where to Start to Fix it, and the RSC staff contact was 24-year-old Derek Khanna.

Immediately, “copyright skeptics” on the Internet began lavishly praising Three Myths. For example, one of the most irrational “skeptics,” the editor of the blog TechDirt, Mike Masnick, hailed Three Myths as a “watershed moment” in his often-irrational anti-copyright campaign. Three Myths claimed that U.S. copyright laws violate “nearly every tenet of laissez fair capitalism” and constitute “corporate welfare” that thwart capitalism, hamper science, stifle libraries, penalize journalism, hurt innovation and consumers, and even conceal Nazis.

The next day, the RSC Executive Director firmly disowned Three Myths. He explained that it had been “published without adequate review within the RSC” and that it violated RSC publication standards because it failed “to provide informative analysis of major policy issues… that accounts for the range of perspectives held by RSC Members and among conservatives….” The stated reasons for the RSC disavowal seemed valid; many Republicans consider copyrights to be one of the many forms of private property that encourage private production of many valuable goods, services, and books.

But Khanna then undermined the RSC by publicly embracing the paper it had just disowned and associating himself with the “tech community” at TechDirt: “I am the author of this memo, and I hope the tech community continues to add to these ideas….” Khanna then appended a link to… TechDirt.

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