Public Knowledge pushes for copyright reform

The group's proposals would shorten the copyright term and create penalties for bogus takedown notices

Digital rights group Public Knowledge has launched a campaign to reform U.S. copyright laws and make them more friendly to the Internet, in the eyes of the group.

Public Knowledge's Internet Blueprint campaign, unveiled Tuesday, was inspired by the debate in the U.S. Congress over two controversial copyright enforcement bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), the group said. But Public Knowledge's proposals would take copyright law in a different direction.

The group was a leading critic of SOPA and PIPA, and one Public Knowledge proposal would fine companies that file unfounded copyright takedown notices with websites. The takedown notice proposal would also make takedown requests public and would require senders of takedown notices to state that they are authorized to act on behalf of the holder of an infringed copyright.

The Internet Blueprint campaign is intended to spark long-term debate about U.S. copyright laws and their effects on the Internet, said Michael Weinberg, a senior staff attorney at Public Knowledge and coordinator of the project. Asked if the group expects opposition from some lawmakers or entertainment groups, Weinberg said he hopes proposals will generate discussion about the issues.

"Every proposal in Congress has opponents," he said. "We are hopeful that the entertainment industry recognizes that these proposals are reasonable steps towards making copyright work better for everyone and decides to support them along with members of the public. Congress is recognizing that these issues have an impact that is broader than large media companies, and therefore should take these proposals seriously."

Another Public Knowledge proposal would shorten copyright terms by 20 to 45 years, depending on the situation, and a third proposal would allow people to circumvent copyright controls on digital content if done for a legal purpose. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, it is illegal to circumvent digital rights management (DRM) technologies designed to protect copyrighted works.

Another Public Knowledge proposal would prohibit copyright holders from asserting more control over their works than legally allowed. The proposal would make it an unfair and deceptive trade practice enforceable by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to overstate copyright protections.

A fifth proposal would eliminate any statutory damages if a person sued for infringement shows that he believed he was making a fair-use copy of the work. The fair-use proposal would also eliminate, in some cases, a requirement that the defendant pay the legal fees of the copyright holder.

A sixth proposal would require U.S. officials negotiating intellectual property-related trade agreements to publish details of those negotiations. The proposal would require the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to publicly disclose any provisions in both drafts it proposes as well as working drafts of trade agreements that touch on copyright, trademark or patent law.

Some digital rights groups have complained about closed negotiations in the recent Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and current Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement negotiations.

The Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America, two groups that have called for stronger copyright enforcement, didn't immediately respond to requests for comments on the Public Knowledge proposals. Spokeswomen for Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican and lead sponsor of SOPA, and Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and lead sponsor of PIPA, declined to comment.

Public Knowledge doesn't have a timeframe for pushing the bills in Congress, Weinberg said.

"Essentially, each bill will move when it is ready to move," he said. "That means that it has adequate congressional and public support. These proposals are now part of the public discussion and need to be seriously considered by all sides."

NetCoalition, a trade group whose members include Amazon.com, eBay and Google, praised the proposals, saying they will "generate a robust and necessary national conversation" about policies that affect the Internet.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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