Continuing the Startup Community’s Fight for Balanced Copyright

This post originally appeared on Medium.

As a non-profit policy organization committed to making the world better for startups, Engine has a long history of engagement on copyright reform issues. Indeed, Engine began as an effort to harness the political power of the startup community that emerged from the tech world’s fight against the ill-fated SOPA/PIPA copyright bills. While the SOPA/PIPA battle remains a critical milestone in the emergence of tech as a political force, our work to return copyright law to a system that promotes rather than hinders innovation is only beginning. To help further this crucial mission, we are proud to join the Re:Create Coalition, a group of creators, innovators, and users working to ensure that copyright laws are balanced and foster innovation, creativity, and economic growth.

Though we have been able to resist some of the worst attempts to manipulate copyright law as a vehicle to preserve legacy business models, the trajectory of copyright policy in the U.S. has skewed consistently towards copyright maximalism and away from the public interest. Our copyright laws are wildly out of balance and are putting a severe strain on innovation. Investors are reluctant to fund startups that allow users to share content as the omnipresent threat of dubious litigation increases the cost of launching an online business. Even companies that are ultimately exonerated of liability have been sued out of existence in a system that awards up to $150,000 for a single instance of secondary copyright infringement but offers virtually no penalties for knowingly making false accusations of infringement. As long as the system contains such wild imbalances, our nation’s innovators face structural disadvantages, hurting job growth and creative production.

Fortunately, there are easy fixes that will go a long way towards restoring sanity to the copyright regime and ensuring that copyright law once again fulfills its constitutional mandate of “promot[ing] the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” To start, Congress should eliminate the statutory damages system so that copyright lawsuits don’t produce windfall profits that only encourage trolling, establish real penalties for bad actors sending false takedown notices, bolster fair use so that everyone has the freedom to iterate on our nation’s creative history, and roll back copyright term lengths so that creative expression isn’t unduly locked away from public access for generations. These, of course, are just a few of the ways policymakers can improve the system, and even as we work towards these goals, we must continue to protect the gains that we have made. The copyright industries have been agitating lately to eviscerate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), even though the DMCA has played an essential role in the enormous boom in the internet sector and the unprecedented explosion of creative production that the internet has made possible.

For the past few years, there has been growing expectation that policymakers in DC will release what’s being called the “Next Great Copyright Act.” With a new Congress and Administration coming into office in just a few months, it is an open question just how “great” any new copyright bill will be. Though new copyright bills tend to favor incumbent industries to the detriment of new technologies and openness, we have the potential to shape a future for copyright that respects the incredible creative potential of new technology. We are excited to work with the Re:Create Coalition to ensure that copyright promotes rather than hinders innovation and creativity.




Photo courtesy of Craig Piersma