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.