RSC yanks policy brief bashing copyright law as corporate welfare

A policy brief that calls for major reforms to existing copyright law was posted to the Republican Study Committee's website on Friday and suddenly yanked down just a day later — sparking outcry from tech bloggers and copyright reform advocates.

The brief, written by RSC staffer Derek Khanna, takes a critical view of the current copyright system, arguing that copyright "violates nearly every tenet of laissez-faire capitalism" and gives content producers a "government subsidized content-monopoly." 

Among its recommendations, the brief calls for copyright protection terms to be shortened and contends that false copyright takedown requests should be punished — changes that would likely result in fierce pushback from the entertainment industry. 

"Today’s legal regime of copyright law is seen by many as a form of corporate welfare that hurts innovation and hurts the consumer," the brief reads. "It is a system that picks winners and losers, and the losers are new industries that could generate new wealth and added value."

The sudden removal of the brief prompted questions from tech bloggers and advocates for copyright reform about what caused the RSC to make such a move. Some pointed fingers at Hollywood groups and accused them of pressuring the RSC to pull the paper from its site.

The tech blog Ars Technica, citing an unnamed source, claimed that content lobbyists had allegedly pressured RSC leadership to backtrack on the policy brief. Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn, who has been critical of stringent copyright legislation, lauded the brief's policy recommendations and expressed disappointment in the RSC's decision to remove the paper from its site.

"The ideas put forth in the policy brief are long overdue for serious discussion and debate in Congress, and it's galling to see that powerful members of the content industry want to suppress them," Sohn said in a statement.

But the RSC, an independent research arm that reviews policy and legislation for House Republicans, rebutted those claims. Paul Teller, the executive director of the RSC, sent out an email on Saturday saying the brief was "published without adequate review" and did not represent the range of perspectives held by its members, according to The American Conservative's blog.

An RSC spokesman echoed that comment in an email to The Hill.

"On issues where there are several different perspectives among our members, our policy briefs should reflect that. This policy brief presented one view among conservatives on U.S. copyright law," said RSC spokesman Brian Straessle. "Due to an oversight in our review process, it did not account for the full range of perspectives among our members. It was removed from the website to address that concern."

"I know some want to point fingers elsewhere, but the simple fact is that we screwed up, we admitted it, and we hope people will now use this opportunity to engage in polite and serious discussion of copyright law," Straessle added.

One of the top lobbyists for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) also pushed back against claims that it pressured the RSC to remove the brief.

“While we never asked that the brief be removed from the RSC website, we understand that a decision was made to do so to allow for the appropriate process that would have otherwise taken place before issuing," said Mitch Glazier, senior executive vice president at the RIAA. "Debate is important. So is appropriate attribution of views. We appreciate that there are many thoughtful perspectives on ensuring that the copyright laws adequately protect creativity and culture while fostering innovation, and we look forward to an ongoing dynamic dialogue about these vital issues."

If adopted, the policy brief would represent a sea change in the GOP's stance toward intellectual property and copyright. While Democrats have traditionally aligned with Hollywood interests, Republicans have also sought tougher laws for copyright protection. Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, introduced the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act last year that sparked a wave of online protests.

"It's hard to understate what a drastic rhetorical shift this piece represented," Jordan Bloom, an associate editor for The American Conservative, said in an email to The Hill.

"Conservatives ought to support less government, including copyright liberalization," Bloom added. "If they had the courage of their convictions they might even find that voters would reward them for it."

--This post was updated at 11:26 a.m.