A group of leading experts on copyright law and policy released a report today that explores ideas for meaningful reforms to the U.S. copyright system. Crafted over three years by a group of legal academics, private practitioners, and corporate attorneys, the report examines several ways to improve and update the law in an era of rapid technological change.
The Copyright Principles Project: Directions for Reform (CPP) report attempts to ignite an informed debate about how to best balance the interests of copyright owners and users. The group reached consensus on a number of significant ideas, as well as guiding principles for copyright reform. The project was led by Berkeley Law distinguished professor Pamela Samuelson.
"The report intelligently informs the copyright debate, and the identification and discussion of issues is well done and important," said Marybeth Peters, the head of the U.S. Copyright Office. "The recommendations are thoughtful, and in many cases, I support them. This entire project significantly reinvigorates efforts to bring the copyright law up-to-date, either incrementally or as a major revision." . . .
One of the project's ideas would provide non-commercial uses of copyrighted works better shelter from liability, particularly as users lift parts of existing works to create new ones. The report also suggests a more efficient and technologically-driven approach to copyright registration, so that works can be freely reused if their authors agree.
Copyright law reform has been a challenging issue for stakeholders, many of whom have starkly different ideas about how to balance public and private interests. To its credit, the project team explored controversial subjects openly and with vigorous debate. In cases where the participants could not settle on a specific reform proposal, they were able to draft guiding principles for future reform efforts. . . .
One common problem the report addresses is peer-to-peer file-sharing of commercial movies and music. Although some file-sharing services have been shut down, the illegal practice has not abated. The report suggests the creation of a "safe harbor" to protect online service providers from excessive damage claims if they take reasonable, voluntary, measures to limit file-sharing—or other unlawful distributions of commercial works. Companies that comply would be shielded from liability for user infringements.
The report also suggests development of reasonable and consistent statutory guidelines for damage awards. Current law allows courts to award between $750 and $30,000 in damages per infringed work—and up to $150,000 per work if the infringement is willful. This has led to awards that seem arbitrary and capricious, inconsistent with awards in similar cases, and grossly excessive or disproportionate.
Other ideas include:
Modernize the Copyright Office: Instead of one registry for all copyrighted works, the office could certify third-party registries for different types of works, such as photos, films, and computer programs. The model is akin to the domain name registration system. Other suggestions include adopting a small claims procedure for small-scale disputes.
Reinvigorate copyright registration: Encourage copyright owners to register so that it's simple to find out who owns what. The idea is to make registration easy and worthwhile for copyright owners so that the public can have better information about protected works and their owners.
Refine exclusive rights for authors: Weigh commercial value and risk of harm to copyright markets when determining whether someone's exclusive right has been infringed; this shields non-harmful activity from the threat of highly punitive copyright claims.
Revise the common practice of automatic injunctions: Courts could consider whether a preliminary or permanent injunction is needed to prevent irreparable harm, as well as whether having access to the work is in the public’s best interest.
Limit Orphan Works liability: Enable libraries and others to preserve a part of our cultural heritage by using copyrighted materials whose owners cannot readily be found.