December 5, 2020

Senator Thom Tillis Pushed Awful Patent Reform Idea Last Year; Now Looks To Top It With Awful Copyright Reform This Year

Last year, Senator Tom Tillis was pushing a completely ridiculous patent reform bill that would have enabled massive patent trolling, by expanding what would count as patent-eligible subject matter. After his bill was released — and basically everyone who wasn’t a patent troll explained what a disaster it would be for American innovation, Tillis quietly let the matter drop.

Given that experience, you might think that Tillis would think twice before stepping into the even more fraught arena of copyright reform. And yet, Tillis has been champing at the bit to change the DMCA to make Hollywood happier with it. Now, there are lots of complaints to be made about the DMCA. Section 512 enables blatant censorship and puts tremendous pressure on platforms to take down non-infringing content. It also favors larger platforms which can deal with a barrage of takedowns over smaller upstarts. Section 1201 of the DMCA is utter garbage and makes it “infringing” to merely talk about ways to remove DRM — even if the underlying reason for doing so is non-infringing. There are obvious ways to fix both of those.

But, instead, Tillis and his staff seem ultra focused on making Section 512 worse and importing awful ideas like the EU Copyright Directive, which forces platforms into being Hollywood’s personal police, and bringing in dangerous, censorial ideas like “notice and staydown,” which would require expensive and unreliable internet filters. While he’s made some nod towards perhaps making a few cosmetic changes to 1201 as a “trade” for making 512 that much worse, the overall impact of what’s being discussed would be terrible. 1201 would remain in some form, and what few exceptions would be made would be minimal in impact. But bringing in things like “notice and staydown” for 512 would inevitably lead to much more censorship.

It’s unclear why Tillis is rushing headlong into this debate, when it seems that neither he nor his staffers grasp the details of how copyright works. Given how silly and uninformed Tillis came out of last year’s attempt to pass a patent bill, it’s bizarre that his office hasn’t bothered to be more careful on the copyright front before leaping into that arena.
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