Thursday, January 04, 2007

A New Congress, a New Act?

Today begins the new Congress with new committee and subcommittee chairs. In the House, Howard Berman takes the reins as chair of the IP subcommittee. In the Senate, the subcommittee has been folded back into the full Committee, chaired by Senator Leahy. The Senate has had an on-off again attitude. After the 1976 Act was passed, the Senate abolished its subcommittee believing there would be little work to do in the future. After a few years, the subcommittee was back in business. The House has historically permitted its full committee chairs to also chair a subcommittee. On the Judiciary Committee, the chair in fact typically chaired the most powerful subcommittee. In the days before subcommittees had names, Chair Manny Cellar also chaired Subcommittee No. 5. But in the Senate, the full Judiciary Committee chair has been precluded from chairing a subcommittee. Given his great interest in copyright, when Senator Hatch became full committee chair, he abolished the subcommittee once again and handled copyright from the full committee. When Senator Spector took over at the full committee, the subcommittee was reinstated, with Senator Hatch as chair. But with Senator Leahy as full chair of Judiciary, the subcommittee has once again been dissolved.

Aside from the first 100 hours legislation advocated by Speaker Pelosi, the first session of a Congress is usually devoted to oversight hearings, and exploring proposed legislation. One exception may be music licensing. That issue received a great deal of attention last Congress. It may receive attention in the first session of this Congress and if so, some type of reform might be passed relatively early in the two-year period. But what is really needed is serious groundwork toward a new omnibus revision. The 1976 Act is over 30 years old. It is tired, and weighted down by ever longer and more complex provisions. Even the 1998 DMCA provisions are in need of revisiting to say nothing of redrafting. There are many other provisions that can fruitfully be revisited, like personal use exemptions (Section 1008 can hardly be considered a success in that respect), damages and secondary liability. But even more, it is a fair question to ask afresh what we want our copyright laws to be.

The 1976 Act was the culmination of over 21 years of study and effort. The need for a new Act seems even more compelling than it did in the past.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Do you really want a new Act so soon after completing your treatise?

William Patry said...

Good point, but another possibility would be a slowing down of amendments in anticipation of a larger revision. That would result in less work for me and others too.

Jonathan Mac said...

good point

Ubertrout said...

I recognize this is a major task, but would you be interested in outlining some points of what the new act should be in one or several posts?

Thos said...

What's happening? Suddenly your excellent Copyright blog is being colonised by Web nonsense...

William Patry said...

Thos, I was stunned too. I have asked my colleagues at blogger.

William Patry said...

Here is the answer to the spam. Even though I have word verification, evil spam people get through, and the only way for me to stop it right now is to moderate comments before they are posted. I have very mixed feelings about doing that, but I will try it for a bit to see if that is a better solution.

William Patry said...

A CNN story reports that the House left in place - for now they say - a rule instituted by Republicans in 1995 limiting committee chairs and subcommittee chairs to three two year terms. That is quite a change from the House under previous Democrat rule.

Kevin said...

It would seem to me that it is too soon for copyright revision. As Mark Twain said, "Whenever a copyright law is to be made or altered, then the idiots assemble."

I think we need to wait until the members of Congress are of the generation to have grown up familiar with the importance of technologies like file-sharing or Google Book Search.

I am tired of men who cannot take the time to understand the issues deciding upon them. This, for the most part, is a generational issue and we need a new generation of Congressional members to understand it.

Let Twain's "idiots" retire before my generation assembles.

Timothy Phillips said...

Professor: Is there anyone in the new Congress whom you'd consider a friend to the public domain ?