POLITICS

Conservatives awkwardly stumble toward tackling copyright

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Photo - Intellectual property
Intellectual property
Politics,Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney,Politics Digest

Copyright, patents, and trademarks are — unlike most things the federal government does — enumerated in the Constitution as within Congress’s purview. They are helpful for fostering research and innovation.

Abused, however, copyright is a way for well-established businesses to extract wealth from the economy, knee-cap competitors, and quash innovation.

Libertarian writers like Jerry Brito and Tim Lee have been writing for years about the need to reform copyright law, but the Republican Party has generally deferred to the industry lobbies who oppose this sort of reform.

That’s why it got lots of attention when  a study from the Republican Study Committee — the conservative caucus within the House GOP — called for libertarian-leaning copyright reform.

But then the RSC immediately pulled the paper. Matt Yglesias, a liberal blogger open to copyright reform, has a theory as to how this happened, and I think he’s probably right:

Common sense suggests there were other reasons for the retraction. Derek Khanna, a tech-savvy young Republican staffer who came to Washington with Sen. Scott Brown before shifting to the RSC to work primarily on cybersecurity and government oversight issues, is clearly well-versed on the subject. He simply lacked the authority to enact a change in position on a topic dominated by powerful interest groups with a ton of money. Khanna’s supervisors seem to have paid too much attention to the merits of the memo and not enough to the larger politics when vetting it. According to Mike Masnick at TechDirt, when news of the memo filtered out to the Motion Picture Association of America and Recording Industry Association of America, those organizations “went ballistic and hit the phones hard, demanding that the RSC take down the report.” They won.

And of course they did. Big shifts in policy simply don’t happen by trying to sneak memos past lobbyists. But Khanna’s gambit did succeed in making news on a subject where the gap between Capitol Hill and knowledgeable people in the tech and economics worlds is enormous.
This is exactly the sort of approach to policy Republicans need to give up, as I argued in my post-election column. Republicans need to say no to industry lobbyists more, and yes to liberty more.
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