U.S. Congressmen Told About 'Next Great Copyright Act' at Hearing

Capitol Building Washington D.C. Exterior - H 2011
Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

Capitol Building Washington D.C. Exterior - H 2011

Hollywood, start your lobbying engines. SOPA-fighters, here it goes.

Today, before the United States House of Representatives's Judiciary Committee, Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante suggested the time is right for the "next great copyright act."

And Pallante is thinking big.

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According to a prepared statement she gave before taking questions from U.S. congressmen, Pallante said that "if one needs an army of lawyers to understand the basic precepts of the law, then it is time for a new law."

And what does she have in mind?

Here are the issues she would like to address in what would be the first major change to copyright law since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was enacted 15 years ago:

"Clarifying the scope of exclusive rights, revising exceptions and limitations for libraries and archives, addressing orphan works, accommodating persons who have print disabilities, providing guidance to educational institutions, exempting incidental copies in appropriate instances, updating enforcement provisions, providing guidance on statutory damages, reviewing the efficacy of the DMCA, assisting with small copyright claims, reforming the music marketplace, updating the framework for cable and satellite transmissions, encouraging new licensing regimes and improving the systems of copyright registration and recordation."

Pallante is also calling for "bold adjustments" in the copyright term, which currently offers rights for the life of the author plus 70 years or, in cases of corporate authorship, 95 years after publication.

"You may want to consider alleviating some of the pressure and gridlock brought about by the long copyright term -- for example, by reverting works to the public domain after a period of life plus 50 years unless heirs or successors register their interests with the Copyright Office," Pallante told the Judiciary Committee.

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She added, "And in compelling circumstances, you may wish to reverse the general principle of copyright law that copyright owners should grant prior approval for the reproduction and dissemination of their works -- for example, by requiring copyright owners to object or 'opt out' in order to prevent certain uses, whether paid or unpaid, by educational institutions or libraries."

Political gridlock and the sour taste left by the debate over the Stop Online Piracy Act might signal that Congress won't make any big moves. On the other hand, we've heard quite some rumbling about the need for legislative action on the copyright front since Tuesday's landmark Supreme Court copyright ruling in Kirtsaeng. And Washington D.C. sometimes gets its act together to pass legislation. Notably, the America Invents Act, covering big changes in patent law, just went into effect this past Saturday.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner