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The Push for a New U.S. Copyright Office
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Posted On April 4, 2017
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The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) share their joint reaction:

The Copyright Office is more than an administrative repository, and its Register is more than its managerial chief. The Office is instrumental in shaping our country’s copyright policies, interpreting our copyright laws and ensuring that creators and the creative process are respected, valued and protected. We believe this is a core principal in shaping the Office of the future. … We were … very surprised by the recent removal of the most recent Register, who embodied all the qualities a Register of Copyright should possess: erudite in copyright law, respected as a leader, passionate for the musicians, authors and artists whose creative labor built the Library of Congress, and respectful of the needs of all affected by our copyright system. We hope the new Register will embody those same qualities. We therefore support the Committee’s intention to provide the Register with the independence necessary to fulfill the goals of the Office.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) writes:

[The MPAA] supports Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Conyers’ proposal to make the Register of Copyrights a nominated and confirmed position with autonomy over Copyright Office policy, its budget, its personnel, and its technology needs, subject to congressional oversight. Codifying the Office’s policy and operational autonomy from the Library of Congress will better enable Congress to exercise its authority granted by the Copyright Clause and to receive from the Copyright Office impartial, expert, unfiltered advice it needs to do so, including on all the other issues raised in the House Judiciary Committee’s copyright review. It will also give the Copyright Office the tools necessary to exercise its statutory obligations under the Copyright Act, put the Copyright Office on par with other government entities responsible for administering comparable statutory regimes upon which similarly significant sectors of the economy rely, and allow the American people and all interested parties to provide input through their elected officials into the selection of the Register. For this to occur, the Copyright Office itself must be allowed to manage the modernization according to the Office’s specific knowledge and experience, relying upon people who work with and report to Copyright Office experts and who are not burdened by the demands of another institution with competing priorities. If the Copyright Office is required to work through, or is subject to review by, supervisors who are neither copyright experts nor accountable to the Office, the effort will bog down in the conflicting demands and interests of the larger bureaucracy.

What’s Next for the Copyright Office and Register of Copyrights

When the LC was asked to comment on the policy, a spokesperson responded, “The Library defers to Congress on legislative matters and will be closely monitoring this legislation, as we do any legislation that affects operations and responsibilities of the institution. Ensuring an effective and efficient Copyright Office remains the responsibility and priority of the Librarian and she continues to believe the Copyright Office should have permanent leadership as soon as possible.”

Lesley Ellen Harris, creator of Copyrightlaws.com, expertly sums up the challenges and complex issues involved in reforming the Copyright Office:

It appears that the Copyright Office (CO) by way of historical accident has resided in the LC. In discussing the autonomy of the CO, one must look at its role in providing expertise to the legislative branch and to make its own decisions about staffing, budget, information technology and operations. This issue in itself shows the complexity of copyright reform as this goes far beyond the needs of the individual creator who wants to protect their work from unauthorized uses. On the other hand, these individuals would greatly benefit from a small claims tribunal to pursue copyright infringements of their work as the current court system is prohibitive for many creators to use. From the perspective of those who use copyright works, a comprehensive database and ownership information could be a huge help when accessing works, determining their copyright status and obtaining permissions. … With the broad base of stakeholders that copyright affects, these first three reform issues are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to copyright reform issues. Consensus is rarely easy on copyright issues and bringing stakeholders together is the first step in being able to move forward with legislative reforms.

Keith Kupferschmid, CEO of the Copyright Alliance, says, “Making the Register a presidential appointee as provided in H.R.1695 will not only make the selection process more effective and transparent but it’s also critical to the continued modernization of the Copyright Office. The bill enjoys widespread bipartisan support and little opposition because of the narrow and modest approach taken and the tremendous support for a more transparent process for selecting the next Register of Copyrights. We look forward to continued support for this legislation and to its passage by the House in the near future.”

The House Committee on the Judiciary passed the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017 on March 29, 2017, with an overwhelming majority of 27 to 1. This is just the first step for what promises to be a milestone year for copyright and copyright reform. Stay tuned.


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Corilee Christou is president of C2 Consulting, a firm that specializes in leveraging and licensing digital content of all types to traditional and internet-based companies using new and innovative business models.

Email Corilee Christou

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