Napster judge calls for major reform of copyright law in the USA

December 2008

All areas

Judge Miriam Hall Patel, who presided over the case that effectively shut down the ‘mother’ of download sites, the original Napster, has proposed a bold plan to reform copyright law in the USA by creating a new joint public-private organisation which would have authority over the licensing and enforcement of copyright. Patel said “there needs to be a comprehensive revision of the provisions that relate to the administration of copyright licensing, royalties and enforcement” adding “I propose that a joint public/private administrative body made up of representatives of all competing interest, including the public, be established and authorized to, among other powers, issue licenses; negotiate, set and administer royalties; and adopt rules and regulations to carry out these purposes.” Patel suggests that all copyrighted music in the US would fall into the system, that compulsory licences should be abolished and replaced with blanket licences, that a new royalty paying body would be set up, that there would be an independent arbitration body and finally (and quite controversially) any new devices and technology capable of recording, distributing or copying music would need to be approved before being released to consumers. “It was not surprising that the notion of free music caught on,” Patel said “What is surprising is how the industry seemed to be caught so short. While it was fumbling the new ways to distribute digital music at a profit in the new age, savvy innovators were moving full speed ahead. Sadly, it is the artists and composers who have been the most neglected in this matter.” But legislation is not the answer, she has concluded. “Our copyright laws have become a patchwork of amendments that are adopted as emergencies arise” and as lobbyists representing various interests push legislation. Simply put, the system is too complex and doesn’t properly address music’s present, let alone its future.”

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