House Judiciary Chairman to launch sweeping review of US copyright law

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said Wednesday that his committee will launch a sweeping review of the country's copyright law and hold a series of hearings on the matter "in the months ahead." 

In remarks at the Library of Congress, Goodlatte argued that existing copyright law lags behind the rapid pace of technology, forcing policymakers to make challenging decisions based on these outdated rules. 

"It is my belief that a wide review of our nation’s copyright laws and related enforcement mechanisms is timely. I am announcing today that the House Judiciary Committee will hold a comprehensive series of hearings on U.S. copyright law in the months ahead," Goodlatte said, according to prepared statements. "The goal of these hearings will be to determine whether the laws are still working in the digital age."

Goodlatte's vow to review the country's existing copyright laws come as Web companies and digital advocates long have called for Congress to update them.

While House Judiciary Chairman did not explicitly say what topics he hopes to cover during the upcoming hearings, his remarks may provide potential clues on copyright issues the committee will tackle. During his comments, Goodlatte touched on a range of copyright challenges that policymakers are currently grappling with, including online piracy, orphan works and music licensing.

"The Internet has enabled copyright owners to make available their works to consumers around the world, but has also enabled others to do so without any compensation for copyright owners.  Efforts to digitize our history so that all have access to it face questions about copyright ownership by those who are hard, if not impossible, to locate," Goodlatte said, per his prepared remarks. "There are concerns about statutory license and damage mechanisms."

Last year a pair of anti-piracy measures were shelved in both the House and Senate after Web companies and online activists launched a wave of protests against them. Goodlatte was a sponsor of the ill-fated Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which was authored by the former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas).

Anti-piracy legislation has not been offered so far this Congress as lawmakers are still shell-shocked from last year's SOPA defeat.

Consumer advocates and representatives from the content industry lauded Goodlatte's announcement and also hinted at topics they hope are covered during the upcoming hearings.

"We welcome the Chairman's proposal to examine how best our copyright laws can, as the Constitution requires, promote the progress of science and the useful arts. As such, we hope that Congress and the Copyright Office will work to balance the interests of artists with those of their audiences and the public in general, ensuring that the ultimate goal of the law is met in promoting innovation and creativity," said Sherwin Siy, vice president of legal affairs at Public Knowledge, in a statement.

Cary Sherman, CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, said the trade group welcomed a public conversation about modernizing the nation's copyright laws, but noted that any final outcomes should be a "balanced approach."

"The chairman is certainly right that advances in technology, the emergence of new business models, and a whole range of changes in the marketplace generally have left some key elements of the copyright laws outdated," Sherman said in a statement. "We share the view that our laws must be modern, streamlined and ensure that all creators are paid a fair market rate for their work. They must work more efficiently— not only for creators, but for users and service providers as well. At the same time, a right with no recourse is no right at all."

"Laws like the [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] must work for creators too, to allow digital music services to flourish. And all creators are entitled to be paid fair market value for their work," Sherman added.

Meanwhile, David Israelite, the CEO of the National Music Publishers' Association, said he hoped the hearings touched on music royalties issues. In a statement, he argued that new digital services refuse to pay songwriters and their music publishing partners "a fair market rate."

"I applaud Chairman Goodlatte for his commitment to explore the complex issues around copyright law in the digital age, and hope the hearings address the challenges songwriters, music publishers and other creators face in the digital marketplace," Israelite said in a statement.