As lawmakers struggled Friday to clean up the mess on Wall Street, sponsors of the Orphan Works Act passed more special interest legislation. Their bill would force copyright holders to subsidize giant copyright databases run by giant internet firms.
Like the companies now needing billion dollar bailouts, these copyright registries – which would theoretically contain the entire copyright wealth of the US – would presumably be "too big to fail." Yet it's our wealth, not theirs, the scheme would risk.
Small business owners didn't ask for this legislation. We don't want it and we don't need it. Our opposition numbers have been growing daily. So Friday, the bill's sponsors reached for the hotline.
What is Hotlining?
Critics of hotlining say "that lawmakers are essentially signing off on legislation neither they nor their staff have ever read."
"In order for a bill to be hotlined, the Senate Majority Leader and Minority Leader must agree to pass it by unanimous consent, without a roll-call vote. The two leaders then inform Members of this agreement using special hotlines installed in each office and give Members a specified amount of time to object – in some cases as little as 15 minutes. If no objection is registered, the bill is passed."
- Roll Call, Sept 17, 2007
In other words, a Senate bill can pass by "unanimous consent" even if some Senators don't know about it.
The Devil's Own Day
Senators Leahy and Hatch hotlined the Orphan Works Act twice last summer. Each time came at the end of a day, at the end of a week, near the end of a legislative session. Each time lawmakers were distracted by other issues and other plans. Each time artists rallied quickly and each time a Senator put a hold on the bill.
Friday the Senators found a new opportunity.
With lawmakers struggling to package a 700 billion dollar bailout to avert a worldwide economic meltdown, with the rest of the country focused on Presidential debates, with Washington in chaos and Congressional phone lines jammed, they hotlined an amended bill. On short notice, even the legislative aides we could reach by phone said they didn't have time to read it. And so, while we were rushing to get out a second email blast to artists, the bill passed by "unanimous consent" - in other words, by default.
What better way to pass a bill that was drafted in secret than to pass it while nobody's looking?
Since Friday, artists have been conducting bitter post mortems on their blogs. That's understandable, but it's not time yet.
"When Sherman arrived at Grant's headquarters later that evening, he found the general - broken sword and all - chewing on a soggy cigar in the rain, which had begun soaking the battlefield.
'Well, Grant,' Sherman said to his friend, 'we've had the devil's own day, haven't we?'
'Yes,' replied Grant, 'lick 'em tomorrow, though.'"
The Senate passed their bill Friday, but the House hasn't. There's still time to write, phone and fax your congressional representatives. Tell them not to let the House Judiciary Committee fold their bill and adopt the Senate's.
Tell Congress to protect the private property of small businesses. Lick 'em tomorrow.
– Brad Holland and Cynthia Turner, for the Board of the Illustrators' Partnership
Quote from "The Devil's Own Day," by Christopher Allen, January 2000 America's Civil War Magazine
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