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Beyond Pallante’s copyright testimony

James Nurton

With a few hours to spare in Washington DC last week, I decided to pop into room 2141 of the Rayburn House Office Building to hear the testimony of US Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante to the US House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet. It was enlightening

Maria PallanteAs has been well reported, Pallante (right) used the occasion to call for Congress to pass the “next great Copyright Act” (watch the video). Her comments have provoked critiques from the copyright industries, free speech advocates and even feminists.

In no particular order, here are my impressions of the hearing: fewer than half of the 26 members of the subcommittee were present for the testimony; those that were asked some pertinent questions, though they seemed to be specific to particular interests. By contrast, there were no spare seats for the public – I estimated there were about 150 people in the room and there was also an overflow area. The line to get in snaked around a corridor and those at the front must have arrived several hours before. There was a great variety of people there – in just a short period I chatted to two lawyers, a lobbyist, a photographer, someone from the Copyright Office and a person from a tech company. And I was completely unprepared for the extent to which the line for the hearing was a golden networking opportunity: some people walked up and down, chatting and swapping business cards, as though they were at a conference reception.

It’s clear a lot of people feel they have a stake in this debate. At a recent event on copyright reform in London, a senior judge noted that legislative change could best be effected by a “committee of experts” sitting around a table and coming up with proposals. Maybe, but who should be on that committee – copyright professors, lawyers and judges? the creative industries? technology companies such as Google? organisations such as the Open Rights Group and the Pirate Party? libraries? students? file-sharers? I suspect that until we agree on whose voice counts, it’s going to be impossible to make any meaningful reform.


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