In January, the 113th Congress was sworn in. That same day, Derek Khanna, a staffer for the Republican Study Committee, was terminated because he authored a memo certain lobbyists didn’t like.
Whether one agrees with Khanna’s position on copyright reform or not, the situation surrounding it all was controversial. The presence of lobbyists, the approval of the memo by the RSC chain-of-command, and other factors all played into why Khanna was released from his position.
Since then, he has been busy. Despite only being in his mid-twenties, he has presented to a Tea Party Patriots Local Coordinator conference call, been published in The Atlantic and other publications, and is all but single-handedly responsible for convincing Congress and the White House to overturn a regulatory rule limiting the freedom of Americans. He is also a Yale Law Fellow.
I say down with Khanna on Friday at CPAC to discuss what happened with the Republican Study Committee, his work since then, and especially his efforts regarding cell phone freedom.
Dustin Siggins: Tell us a little bit about what happened to you at the Republican Study Committee (RSC)?
Derek Khanna: As part of my job, I wrote a memo about reforming copyright law. Within 24 hours of its publication online, via the RSC, it was pulled down. Two weeks later, I was informed that I would not be retained as a staffer with the arrival of the new Chairman of the RSC.
DS: I understand 7 of 11 staffers left the RSC with the new Congress. Are you sure there’s a correlation between the memo and your departure?
DK: I am positive there was a correlation. Brad Watson, our Policy Director, had left before the new Congress, so I was the only policy staffer that left at the start of the new Congress.
DS: Why was the memo so controversial?
DK: I’m not sure. It was endorsed by many conservative organizations. I don’t think it was controversial. I don’t think looking to the Constitution and trying to ensure our system is backed by constitutional principles and fosters innovation is particularly radical.
DS: I’ve looked into your memo a little bit. You say, among other flaws, our system allows copyright for far too many years, and this helps the “big guy” at the expense of innovation and moving society forward. Can you sell this out a little bit more?
DK: Our Founders’ system of copyright was for 14 years, for a maximum of 28 years with renewal. Today’s, it’s life plus 75 years, and the copyright industry asks for extension of the same policy when it is about to expire every 20 years. This continued policy means a period of infinite copyright, and is a clear violation of the Constitution.
DS: What are you doing now?
DK: I am a Yale Law Visiting Fellow, where I do research on intellectual property technology law, and I have spearheaded the campaign regarding cell phone locking.
DS: I have heard about this lately. What’s the law, what’s the situation, what’s the change you are pushing for?
DK: Cell phone unlocking allows your phone to be used for a different carrier. You can use a sim-card with different companies. The ability for your phone to be unlocked is a critical part of a competitive wireless market. There are hundreds of wireless carriers in the nation who agree, and have petitioned the Library of Congress to keep this open.
The big carriers, like AT&T and Verizon, didn’t like it. So they convinced the Library of Congress to make it illegal, to the tune of $500,000 in fines and up to five years in jail.
It basically means you don’t own your own device, ever, even once the contract expires. It helps ensure you have to stay with AT&T, Verizon, etc. because smaller companies may not have the same partnerships with Apple, Motorola, etc. that the big companies do.
Other market models could exist if this law was changed. Other nations have sim-cards for sale. We don’t in this country. Right now, when our military service members get off planes in other countries and use sim-cards they buy there, they are breaking the law.
DS: What actions have you pushed?
DK: We got 114,000 signatures on the White House’s website, and 32 days after the rule when into effect the White House said it backed our petition. There are four bills addressing this in Congress. Senator Wyden (D-OR), Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) are three of the Members taking the lead on this.
DS: How old are you? I feel kind of unaccomplished…
DK: I just turned 25 years old.