Who is Robert Goodlatte and why should copyright owners care?

Who is Robert Goodlatte and why should copyright owners care?

Laws are written by people.  To help understand why a law exists it is sometimes helpful to study where the author of a law came from.  In the United States laws are written by members of congress.  Robert Goodlatte represents Virginia in the House of Representatives.  He was first elected in 1992 and has been a member of the house of representatives  for 13 terms.  Mr. Goodlatte is the current Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Goodlatte has taken a keen interest in reforming the copyright law of the United States.  Mr. Goodlatte was one of the sponsors of The Stop Online Piracy Act, a law which would have changed a number of things in copyright law.  The most controversial change would have reduced the safe harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which protects Internet Service Providers from liability for copyright infringement by their users. This law failed to be passed in 2012.

As Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Mr. Goodlatte announced the House Judiciary Committee’s intention to undertake a comprehensive review of U.S. copyright law.  Mr. Goodlatte made his announcement on April 24, 2013, in a speech before the World Intellectual Property Day celebration at the Library of Congress.  As part of the copyright review, the House Judiciary Committee has held 20 hearings which included testimony from 100 witnesses. Following these hearings, witnesses of the Committee’s copyright review hearings and other interested stakeholders have been invited to meet with House Judiciary Committee staff and provide additional input on copyright policy issues. In addition, the House Judiciary Committee conducted a listening tour with stops in Nashville, Silicon Valley, and Los Angeles where they heard from a wide range of creators, innovators, technology professionals, and users of copyrighted works.  The goal of the Committee’s review has been to determine whether the copyright laws are still working in the digital age to reward creativity and innovation.

On November 9 2017, Mr. Goodlatte announced that he would not run for re-election and would retire from congress in December 2018.  Many people speculate this decision is related to the fact that term limits prevent Mr. Goodlatte from continuing to be the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Many people also speculate that Mr. Goodlatte will attempt to pass a number of new laws related to copyright law before he retires from congress.  The Stop Online Piracy Act failed because it attempted to change too much all at once which solidified opposition to the law.  It is reasonable to assume that new copyright laws will be passed in small pieces over the course of the next year.

Two bills related to copyright have been proposed so far this year.

Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017 – Passed the House in April 2017 still needs senate vote – The purpose of this bill is to make the Register of Copyrights a Presidential appointee, right now the Register is appointed by the Librarian of Congress.  It is likely this bill will pass.

Fair Play Fair Pay Act – the final bill has not been presented for a vote yet – The purpose of this bill is to impose a royalty on music played over the radio. This bill has strong opposition from radio station owners and it is unlikely the bill will pass because an opposing bill already has 4 times as many members of congress.

It is likely that more bills will be proposed in the near future and that a bill limiting the safe harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act will be proposed.

The next year will be a time of change for the copyright laws in the United States.

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