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Copyrights Are Important Across America

Harold Furchtgott-Roth

Rural Pennsylvania and the eastern suburbs of Los Angeles are not top-of-mind locations associated with copyrights. But those are the homes respectively of Tom Marino and Judy Chu, authors of a discussion draft to modernize the Copyright Office. It turns out that copyrights are important not just to Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Manhattan. Copyrights are important to all of America.

That is also the finding of a recent study by Stephen Siwek on behalf of the International Intellectual Property Alliance. That study found that the core copyright industries— books, newspapers and periodicals, motion pictures, recorded music, radio and television broadcasting, and software in all formats, including video games—contributed more than 6.7% of GDP in 2013. All copyright industries contributed more than 11.4% of GDP in 2013. That economic activity is not limited to a handful of communities. It goes on across America, and thus the interest of Representatives Marino and Chu.

Copyright industries are not just important domestically to America as a large share of our economy. They are important internationally. In a world in which many American industries and corporations are receding, American copyrighted works are global icons of America, free enterprise, and freedom. In every corner of the world, people use American software, listen to American music, watch American videos, and all while absorbing American culture.

More than any other country in the world, America has a vested interest in promoting and protecting copyrights and copyrighted works. American artists are compensated through copyrights. American ideals and culture are spread through copyrights. When copyrights are protected, America wins. When copyrights are disregarded, America loses.

Sadly, many people around the world steal American copyrighted works. Legitimate distribution of copyrighted works is all too rare. Some countries are so depraved that their people can taste freedom only from stolen copyrighted works.

It need not be that way. Our government does much to protect copyrighted works. But it could do much more. In Washington, a city filled with large bureaucracies occupying fortress-like buildings of immediately recognizable federal agencies, the Copyright Office is remarkably invisible.

Ask a DC taxi driver to take you to the Copyright Office building, and you will get a blank stare. There is no Copyright Office building, only a remote area within the Library of Congress.

Most federal agencies measure employees in the thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands. Not the Copyright Office. It has a few hundred.

Perhaps its obscurity in Washington is its key to success. In a world in which American economic and military power are waning, copyrighted works are one of the few remaining areas in which America still dominates.

Our federal government has large agencies ensconced in ever larger palaces to regulate practically every business in America. The regulation all too often does more harm than good, debilitating not only individual businesses but the American economy as a whole. One can visit any number of these large agencies housed in mausoleums to failing American industries.

The copyright industry, in contrast, regulates nothing. And the industry it does not regulate often fare better as a result.

But the American copyright industries could be doing even better, and the American economy with them. An enlightened Administration could take property rights, including intellectual property rights, seriously. An enlightened Administration would recognize that intellectual property and copyrights in particular are the most valuable resources in America. An enlightened Administration would wonder why America has neglected intellectual property for so long.

Copyrights are not merely important to specific industries located in narrow parts of America. Copyrights are important to the economic future of all of America, including rural Pennsylvania and suburban Los Angeles. Just ask Tom Marino and Judy Chu.

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