The judge responsible for shutting down the original version of peer-to-peer service Napster proposed an interesting plan this week to reform copyright by establishing public and private organizations that will be in charge of licensing and enforcing the law in this digital age.
Judge Miriam Hall Patel had this to say at the Fordham University School of Law in New York City: "There needs to be a comprehensive revision of the provisions that relate to the administration of copyright licensing, royalties and enforcement. 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."
"It was not surprising that the notion of free music caught on," she added. "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. [In regards to legislation,] our copyright laws have become a patchwork of amendments that are adopted as emergencies arise."
Judge Patel's recommendations (Thanks to Wired.com):
The new body needs to be a mix of public and private entities with all parties represented. It cannot be a purely governmental body because that is not likely to instill confidence in the public.
All copyrighted music would be part of this system and subject to a compulsory license, with possible opt-out provisions for certain rights holders.
Congress should abolish all current compulsory licenses and adopt a blanket licensing system. (Such a system may have allowed Napster to continue operating, assuming it could afford to pay labels under the compulsory licensing scheme.)
The body would administer all royalty payments and would replace all current systems for doing so.
An independent arm would arbitrate royalty disputes using music databases that allow arbitration to be done with speed and precision lacking in the current system.
Manufacturers and developers would need approval from this body before introducing an application or device capable of recording, distributing or copying music to consumers. The body would include technology experts to aid in making those decisions quickly - Patel described this as "sort of like the FDA, but much faster."
Judge Miriam Hall Patel was the judge who presided over the famous A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc. case which effectively shut down Napster until it was repurchased and turned into a pay-service.
Report by David Lowe-Bianco.