On July 15, 2014, the House Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet continued its copyright review with a Hearing on Moral Rights, Termination Rights, Resale Royalty and Copyright Term. The Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) filed a statement addressing the topic of copyright term, noting the negative effects that lengthy copyright terms have on the public domain.
The statement notes that the Constitutional rationale for intellectual property protection is “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by security for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” The Supreme Court has interpreted this rationale as having an “ultimate aim … to stimulate creativity for the general public good.”
The statement then goes through the history of copyright term in the United States, which was initially a limited period of fourteen years, with the possibility of renewal for an additional fourteen years, a period far shorter than the current term of the life of the author plus an additional seventy years. It also points out that while patents and copyrights originally had similar periods of protection, the patent term has increased by only 43 percent while the copyright term has increased by almost 580 percent.
Copyright term extensions hinder the goal of “stimulat[ing] creativity for the general public good” by shrinking the public domain. The public domain is essential to allowing access to books and texts, and also promoting future creativity by providing raw materials upon which artists and authors can build. Longer copyright terms escalate the costs of access to knowledge by requiring licenses for a greater period of time and increasing the resources that must be devoted to finding the rightsholder.
The statement also points out that a copyright term that extends beyond the life of the author exacerbates the orphan works problem. Maria Pallante, Register of Copyrights, has noted that the Copyright Office recognized in a study “it seems questionable whether copyright term should be extended to benefit remote heirs or assignees, ‘long after the purpose of the protection has been achieved.’”
Additionally, the statement calls for evidence based copyright policy. It points to the independent Hargreaves report commissioned by the United Kingdom as well as an article published in the Review of Economic Research on Copyright Issues, both of which point out that the economic evidence does not support copyright term extensions, including the current lengthy term that exists in the United States.
Finally, the statement recommends that Congress explore ways to shorten the present term or mitigate its harms, for example, by considering Ms. Pallante’s proposal to reintroduce formalities for the final twenty years of copyright protection.