Business Matters: Congressional Hearing Hints of Upcoming Copyright Changes

If major copyright reform happens in the next six years, it will start next Wednesday when the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet will hold a hearingon the subject of “The Register’s Call for Updates to U.S. Copyright Law.” No witness is listed on the House Judiciary’s website, but sources tell Billboard the lone witness will be Maria Pallante, U.S. Register of Copyrights.

The hearing is likely to be an introduction to the idea of copyright reforms and “part of a coordinated, slow march” toward copyright reform by new Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Pallante, says one source. Goodlatte will have a maximum of six years as committee chairman -- assuming he retains office — to reshape copyright law due to limits Republicans place on committee chairmanships.
Exactly what Pallante will say on Wednesday is not known, but comments made last week at Columbia Law School indicate she is keen to overhaul laws that have not kept up to speed with digital technologies. During a symposium on Section 108, a part of the Copyright Act that applies to libraries and archives, Pallante called the section "woefully out of date" and an "obstacle" to preservation and access of digital content.
Major changes to U.S. copyright law do not come frequently. Given the difficulty in getting copyright issues through Washington, Congress tends to tackle them in bunches. The last time Congress made major amendments to copyright law was the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998. Music publishers are seeking reform of Section 115, which concerns compulsory licensing. Some parties will undoubtedly seek changes to the length of copyright terms. Other subjects that could be ripe for review are the safe harbor protection of the DMCA and mobile phone unlocking, which the White House now supports.