Berman Regrets Voting to Extend Copyright Terms

ASPEN, Colo. – Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property, said Monday that he regretted voting to extend copyrights 20 years when Congress did so in 1998.

“When it comes to pangs of guilt for things I have done, I have to say that the substantial lengthening of the term of copyright is one of those things,” Berman said at the Aspen Institute’s Forum on Communications and Society (FOCAS) here.

The 1998 law, the Copyright Term Extension Act, added 20 years to all U.S. copyrights, lengthening the term to 70 years after the life of the author, or 95 years for copyrights held by a corporation.

Berman kicked off the discussion on intellectual property in the digital age, one of three panel discussions taking place as part of the Aspen’s “Media and Values” conference. The other panel discussions focused on dealing with offensive and harmful content online and over the air, and localism in media.

Berman made the comment about copyright terms in reaction to a question from Esther Dyson, chairman of EDventure Holdings, who asked whether Berman had ever considered a law to shorten copyright terms.

Berman’s preliminary remarks laid out an agenda for copyright legislation that included extending the performance right to include broadcasting as well as satellite radio and webcasters, providing a means for individuals to make use of “orphan works,” or copyrighted material whose owners cannot be identified or located, and potentially even extending intellectual property protection to fashion designs.

“I represent a congressional district where the content industries are very large employers of a large number of my constituents,” Berman conceded. “There are many tensions between the creators and authors, but they are not the same people. But those owners and creators are a substantial part of my political fund-raising base.”

Among the participants in the conference include a range of heavy-hitters in the fields of entertainment, communications, media and journalism, including Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney, Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post blog, Arthur Sulzberger, chairman of the New York Times Company, and Dean Singleton, CEO of MediaNews Group and publisher of 64 daily newspapers.

Besides Berman, government officials attending the gathering include Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, and Viviane Reding, Commissioner of the EU Commission on the Information Society and Media.