US Study Calls For Objective Data To Inform Review Of Copyright Policy

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The US National Research Council has issued a report that looks at copyrighted works in the age of the internet, and finds a need for objective data and independent empirical research on copyright protection and the limits it can place on innovation and free speech. This comes as efforts are underway to review US copyright policy.

The report, entitled “Copyright in the Digital Era: Building Evidence for Policy,” was issued by the Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy (STEP) of the National Research Council. The book is edited by Stephen A. Merrill and William J. Raduchel, and is available here free online or for purchase in print.

A copy of the nearly 100-page report in pdf format is available here.

“The STEP report proposes a detailed set of research questions that could inform key aspects of copyright policy, including the scope and duration of copyright protection, safe harbors and fair-use exceptions, effective enforcement strategies, and whether different industries should abide by different rules,” a release said.

The report follows an announcement last week by the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee that it will conduct a comprehensive review of copyright law. The committee will hold a series of hearings on the topic in the coming months, with the goal of determining “whether the laws are still working in the digital age.”

To address the need for data, the report calls for the “collection, organization, and availability of data associated with the activities of various stakeholders and end-user populations.”

Much of the data is in the hands of the private sector, so the report recommends a public-private cooperation in building “a copyright data infrastructure accessible to academic and industry investigators.” It also urges the federal government to “consider instituting two regular, systematic surveys – one of businesses on their acquisition and use of intellectual property of all types and the other of consumers to understand how digital content is created and used.”

The report looked at four research areas: incentives to create; voluntary licensing transactions; enforcement challenges and striking the right balance between copyright protection; and exceptions and limitations.

For example, on protection, it said research could help with decisions about copyright policy on:

• the appropriate scope of copyright protection;
• the optimal duration of the copyright term;
• the best arrangements for correcting market imperfections that
inhibit voluntary licensing;
• appropriate safe harbors and fair use exceptions to copyright;
• effective enforcement remedies for infringing use and the
best arrangements for correcting deficiencies in enforcement
• the advisability of reintroducing a formal registration requirement;
• the advantages and disadvantages of reshaping the copyright
regime with different rules for different media.

The report, which received funding from a range of sources, is the result of the work of a cross-cutting committee of experts, including mostly academics, but also lawyers and industry representatives.

The Motion Picture Association of America issued a statement about the report, highlighting that it “recognized that copyright theft has had a serious impact on the creative industries and urged new research to further document the effect on our nation’s economic and creative growth.”

William New may be reached at

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