Robert Edmonds makes a sober case why the RSC’s copyright memo should have been withdrawn (h/t Jerry Brito, who calls it the “best critique” he’s seen):

The tech press has speculated that the withdrawal of the RSC paper was orchestrated by Hollywood lobbying, but I doubt a good lobbyist opposed to this document would have had to apply much pressure beyond pointing out the basic ideological conflict of the registration proposal with the anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-bureaucracy views of conservative Republicans, and it’s rather embarrassing to see tech-oriented press hail this paper as a paragon.

Edmonds’s argument rests on three points. First he notes “in reaction to the tech press’s assertion that this paper was not an unreviewed draft” that it did not “receive the customary amount of polish,” judging by a seemingly out-of-place hypothetical and a handful of typographical errors.

It’s fine to quibble with the quality of the memo. But I’m not ready to believe that it was leaked without being approved through the normal channels when it was blasted out via email to more than 150 congressmen and their staffs and hosted on the RSC website. And anyway, the RSC’s press liason has emphasized that the main reason it was withdrawn was not that it was clandestinely released, but that the paper failed to include a full “range of perspectives.”

The reason why the “range of perspectives” explanation strains credulity is that there doesn’t really seem to be a standard of balance on the RSC website, or if there is one it’s murky. The vast majority of the policy briefs are close enough to generic GOP boilerplate as to not cause controversy, but there are outliers. A more hawkish conservative might object to this one on foreign aid for example, also authored by Khanna.

Edmonds also takes issue with Khanna’s proposal for penalties for renewing copyright terms. He’s absolutely right that it would be a terrible idea. But it wouldn’t be the first time a congressional study group put forth something that seems to tackle a problem but has massive unintended consequences. I don’t see how that’s an argument against the memo being properly vetted.

But it’s Edmonds’ second point that’s crucial. He writes that “[a] thoroughly vetted copyright reform proposal would at least take cognizance of the international issues involved in making modifications to existing law.” The growth of the copyright regime in this country is inseparable from its growth internationally, from the Berne treaty to the DMCA’s imposition of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s copyright anti-circumvention measures. But, again, these briefs don’t typically delve into the history of treaties or legislation.

So while the points he raises are sound, I fundamentally disagree that it’s “uncritical” to come to the conclusion that the RSC bowed to industry pressure. If anything, it’s the opposite.