This article, by Matthew Yglesias, originally appeared on Slate on 11/19/12. Copyright is a topic that should be of interest to any author, and self-publishing authors in particular, since they don’t have the backing of a mainstream publisher’s legal department.
The Case of the Vanishing Policy Memo: An influential conservative group released a copyright reform memo that was so smart it had to immediately disavow it.
A Friday afternoon policy memo is not normally the sort of thing that gets one’s heart racing, but “Three Myths About Copyright Law and Where To Start To Fix It” was an exception. It offered a bracing attack on the conventional wisdom about intellectual property that’s dominated Congress for decades mounted a vibrant defense of competition, and advocated regulation aimed at consumers rather than incumbent copyright owners.
Even more amazing was the source. The memo went out on the letterhead of the Republican Study Committee—an organization of House Republicans who think the House Republican caucus isn’t insanely conservative enough—under the names of Rep. Jim Jordan and executive director Paul Teller.
It was an exciting moment for copyright reformers, who were surprised and delighted to find these new conservative allies. But a moment was all it was. By Saturday, Teller had already retracted the memo, claiming it “was published without adequate review” and needed to be “approached with all facts and viewpoints in hand.”
Common sense suggests there were other reasons for the retraction. Derek Khanna, a tech-savvy young Republican staffer who came to Washington with Sen. Scott Brown before shifting to the RSC to work primarily on cybersecurity and government oversight issues, is clearly well-versed on the subject. He simply lacked the authority to enact a change in position on a topic dominated by powerful interest groups with a ton of money. Khanna’s supervisors seem to have paid too much attention to the merits of the memo and not enough to the larger politics when vetting it. According to Mike Masnick at TechDirt, when news of the memo filtered out to the Motion Picture Association of America and Recording Industry Association of America, those organizations “went ballistic and hit the phones hard, demanding that the RSC take down the report.” They won.