Book review: The unrealized promise of the next great copyright act

Having recently been reading a number of cases relating to US copyright and music, this Kat was very interested to review The Unrealized Promise of the Next Great Copyright Act U.S. Copyright Policy for the 21st Century, by Christopher S. Reed, Adjunct Faculty, Claremont Graduate University, US.

The current US law governing copyright is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) updated in 1998, although much like the UK system, many of the principles date much further back. In 2013 Maria Pallente (then Director of the US Copyright Office) delivered her landmark lecture The Next Great Copyright Act, calling on congress to update copyright law for the 21st century. Subsequently, congress embarked on a three-year comprehensive review of copyright. Reed tells of Washington insider that described the review as a “bipartisan fundraiser, as stakeholders shovelled money toward both sides of the aisle in an attempt to maintain the status quo.”

Reed sets out the two main goals of his book; first to document the major issues confronting the copyright system today, as well as the dynamic between the dominant stakeholder communities and second, a piece of commentary intended to convey his own thoughts and impressions as a copyright practitioner and someone who worked at the Copyright Office and the motion picture industry. Reed tells his story from Pallente’s appointment in 2011 until the end of 115th Congress in early 2019; presented in three main parts.

Part 1 has 2 chapters. The first chapter titled New Beginnings, starts with an account of Maria Pallante’s taking of the reins of the Copyright Office and an outline of her Priorities document, setting out her strategic plan and special projects that never came to fruition, looking at the course of events from 2011 to 2013. In doing so, it explores the public perception of copyright law and the copyright office during that time, as a result of the events around the Stop Online Piracy Act, Lofgren’s public questioning of Pallante, and the phone unlocking ruling of the Copyright Office in 2012 that lead to press, a petition and White House disapproval.

The second chapter, titled Thinking a Little More Boldly, discusses Pallante’s attempt to refocus the national conversation through a series of public addresses and congressional testimony. “Pallante’s message was clear, unambiguous and by now, familiar: the law is outdated, it needs to be revised thoroughly, and the time to do it is now.” She set congress on a course that would result in three years of comprehensive evaluations, bringing 20 congressional hearings featuring 100 witnesses and a 3,000 page report and as Reed describes it “quite possibly the nation’s next great Copyright Act.”

Part 2 of the book dives more deeply into several substantive areas of copyright that have been the subject of debate. Chapter 3 covers orphan works and mass digitization, chapter 4 looks at online copyright enforcement, chapter 5 considers copyright protection systems, chapter 6 discusses the visual arts, chapter 7 looks at music licensing, chapter 8 covers cable, satellite, and the future of television. Each of these chapters’ overs an overview of the aforementioned topic, the relevant law, the proposed changes and the different stakeholder perspectives.

Chapter 9 discusses administering the copyright law - looking at the debate over the Copyright Office itself including the scope of its authority and its situs within government. It provides a brief history of the Copyright Office, looks at funding implications, and discusses proposals for reform of the Copyright Office, considering again the different stakeholder perspectives.

Part 3 consists of two final short chapters. Chapter 10 titled Regime Changes, recounts several significant changes to the key people in the copyright system, including Pallante’s abrupt reassignment and subsequent resignation. The chapter also offers lessons that can be learnt from the copyright review and what these mean for the future of US copyright policy.
Image: Vinche Chung

The last chapter, titled Toward the Next Great Copyright Act? Makes some broad observations about the state of copyright policy discourse and offers some predictions for the future of the US copyright system. As Reed says, “the story of copyright policy in the United States is as much about faith and religion as it is about law and jurisprudence.”

This book is an interesting read for anyone who wants the inside scoop on the scandals of the US copyright regime. Reed is able to provide insight from his unique position as someone who worked in the Copyright Office, and share stakeholder perspectives on proposals for reform. In that sense, it is a political and historical analysis of copyright law reform, from an informed personal perspective.

Extent: 272 pp
ISBN: 978 1 78897 594 0
Hardback Price: £85.00 Web: £76.50
Also availble as an ebook
Book review: The unrealized promise of the next great copyright act Book review: The unrealized promise of the next great copyright act Reviewed by Hayleigh Bosher on Wednesday, April 01, 2020 Rating: 5

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