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Copyright reform moving to center stage

Two weeks after the White House put the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA in play by endorsing consumers’ right to unlock their cell phones, broader issues of copyright reform are making their way toward center stage in Washington. This Wednesday (3/20), U.S. Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante is scheduled to testify before the House Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet on her office’s recommendations for a comprehensive overhaul of U.S. copyright law, including the DMCA.

Judging from Pallante’s oral testimony, posted to the subscommittee’s website in advance of the hearing, the discussion will be very wide-ranging:

I think it is time for Congress to think about the next great copyright act, which will need to be more forward thinking and flexible than before. Because the dissemination of content is so pervasive to life in the 21st century, the law also should be less technical and more helpful to those who need to navigate it [snip].

The list of issues is long: 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’s testimony, which is drawn from a longer address she gave earlier this month at Columbia University, touches on more fundamental elements of copyright law as well, including the appropriate length of the copyright term and applying the first sale doctrine to digital copies of works.

So far, Pallante is the only scheduled witness. One source tells Billboard that Pallante is working closely with full Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) on a “coordinated, slow-march” toward copyright reform. If true, the one-witness hearing is likely their opening bid to control the agenda for what is likely to be a long and very messy battle ahead.