Why Is Congress Pushing For Locking Up More Culture?

from the seems-backwards dept

In a weird bit of performative nonsense, Senators Thom Tillis and Pat Leahy, along with Representatives Hakeem Jeffries and Nancy Mace, have come together to... try to help kids lock up culture under copyright. Specifically, they want a bill that would allow kids to register a copyright for free for participants in the Congressional Art Competition and the Congressional App Competition. It is not at all clear why this is necessary, other than to perpetuate the myth that you need a copyright to be creative.

First, to be clear, any such unique and original artwork is already covered by copyright. For better or for worse (by which I mean, for worse), the US now says that copyright is automatic from the time the work is "fixed" in a tangible medium (and if you try to point out that computer code is not a tangible medium, it gets them very, very angry, so don't bother...). So no one needs to register their copyright to be protected. Not registering does limit the ability of the copyright holder to sue or to get statutory damages. But if anyone creating works for a Congressional Art Competition is seeking to sue others, well, that seems like a bigger problem right there.

But here's the key point: copyright is supposed to be there solely as an incentive for creation. The entire setup and basis for copyright in the Constitution is so that Congress can create incentives to promote the progress of science and the useful arts (and, copyright was meant for the "science" part, patents are the "useful arts"). I can pretty much assure you that no one creating artwork or apps for a Congressional competition is doing so because they're incentivized by the copyright. They're doing so because of the competition itself and the desire to express themselves (and maybe get some attention for what they've done).

So encouraging locking these things up is bizarre and counterproductive. More to the point, why aren't these elected officials suggesting that the artists and developers entering these competitions explore the many Creative Commons options to help get their works more widely known?

The answer, tragically, is as obvious as it is cynical. This is all driven by the legacy copyright industries who keep trying to push the myth that copyright = creation. And these are their favorite elected officials. Hollywood backed Tillis strongly in the last election, in which he was expected to lose, so he clearly owes them. Leahy has always been extremely close to Hollywood. Beyond being the Senate supporter of SOPA (his version was PIPA), Hollywood always rewards Leahy by giving him small roles in every Batman film. His daughter is also a Vice President and top lobbyist for the Motion Picture Academy, Hollywood's top lobbying body.

On the House side, the legacy copyright industry has been cultivating a close relationship with Jeffries for a while now, including setting up a neat fundraiser for him in which if you just pay him (and Jerry Nadler) $5k each you get to hang out with Jeffries at the Grammies. Nice work if you can get it. Nancy Mace is new to Congress, so she may just be along for the ride here.

The problem with all of this is just how cynically corrupt this seems. Even if it's in the form of "soft corruption," the connection of a few Senators and Representatives pushing a misguided line of thinking -- that completely undermines the very basis for copyright law -- in favor of the myth pushed by Hollywood and the legacy recording industry, it just makes everyone actually respect copyright even less.

This isn't what copyright is for, and it's shameful that these elected officials are pushing the myth forward.

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Filed Under: congress, congressional app competition, congressional art competition, copyright, copyright office, copyright registration, culture, hakeem jeffries, nancy mace, pat leahy, thom tillis

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