December 26, 2013 | By corynne mcsherry

2013 in Review: The Next Great Copyright Act?

2013 in ReviewAs the year draws to a close, EFF is looking back at the major trends influencing digital rights in 2013 and discussing where we are in the fight for free expression, innovation, fair use, and privacy. Click here to read other blog posts in this series.

We've been saying for years that copyright law is broken. 2013 saw the beginning of what could be a meaningful effort to fix it – if Internet users pay attention and stay involved.

Back in March, Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante issued a public call to Congress to get going on what she called the "Next Great Copyright Act."  As she noted, our current Copyright Act was passed over 40 years ago, and was already outdated then. And so begins what is likely to be a long and tortuous process. House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte has held a series of hearings on copyright policy, with several more set for the coming year.  The Internet Policy Task Force issued a "green paper" identifying particularly thorny issues (such as whether the first sale doctrine applies to ebooks as well as physical books), inviting public comment and beginning a "multi-stakeholder dialogue" about those issues.  That dialogue will continue in 2014.  

We'll continue to watch this process closely, and participate as well. It would be great to see Congress restore some sanity to our rules on copyright penalties, so that innovators don't have to risk crushing liability if they guess wrong about whether their new service or technology infringes copyright. We'd also love to Congress clarify that the first sale doctrine applies equally to digital goods – "you bought it, you own it" should be the rule, not the exception, whether the thing purchased is a CD or an mp3.  And while they are at it, our legislators should repeal the anti-circumvention law that has caused no end of collateral damage, with little corresponding benefit. 

We have other ideas, of course, which we will be sharing in the coming year.  And we will need your help to make them a reality. But the key goal is this: Policymakers must understand that the people they most need to consult on copyright and innovation are the users of the Internet—the millions of people who have found their voice due, in part, to the emergence of technologies and platforms that allow them to speak to a larger audience than ever before. They need to talk to independent creators, innovators, and Internet users who are going to feel the real effects of an overly aggressive legal regime, not to mention the technologists who actually understand the collateral damage that can result when new rules may impact fundamental Internet architecture.  They must bring in policy and industry analysts who are developing real evidence based on hard data, not spin. Last, but not least, the process must be transparent, democratic, and accessible.    

Copyright policy is too important to leave to a few powerful interests that can afford to buy a seat at the table.  To claim spaces for the rest of us, we need to let policymakers know, early and often, that we are paying attention and will stop any agenda that does not hew to copyright'spurpose: to fuel innovation and creative expression.  We'll be giving you tools to do that. Please watch this space and stay involved. 

This article is part of our 2013 Year in Review series; read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2013.

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