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Library of Congress and U.S. Copyright Office Roundup
Posted On January 10, 2017
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Copyright Office Struggles

The overall picture at the LC certainly seems rosy. However, the U.S. Copyright Office is a different story. The office, led by then Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante, was attempting to fix its problems in 2016, but with its budget and IT systems both dependent on the LC, this was not a simple task. After only a month as the Librarian of Congress, Hayden removed Pallante from her position. She had been Register of Copyrights since 2011, after holding several positions at the Copyright Office since 2008. Never before has a Register of Copyrights been removed from his or her post by the Librarian of Congress.

Instead of taking the alternative position of senior advisor to the Librarian of Congress that Hayden offered her, Pallante resigned, effective Oct. 29. Reactions were both positive and negative. The Authors Guild responded, “Under Pallante, the Copyright Office operated under and embodied the principle that copyright exists to benefit the public by incentivizing new works of authorship, and that the rights of individual creators need [to] be respected. …” Mike Masnick wrote on Techdirt, “The Copyright Office really could use new leadership. … [I]t does seem like today’s Copyright Office needs someone who isn’t just representing Hollywood’s viewpoint and recognizes that copyright itself is supposed to benefit the public first and foremost—something Pallante denies.”

The person who is chosen to lead the Copyright Office in 2017 should have the primary objectives of modernizing it, improving its registration systems, and upgrading its IT processes. In a recent staff reorganization, Mao was named deputy Librarian of Congress and given responsibility for the Copyright Office, the Congressional Research Service, Library Services, and the Law Library of Congress, meaning that the Copyright Office no longer reports to the Librarian of Congress directly. For more information and reactions to changes at the LC and the Copyright Office, see the Copyright Alliance’s News & Events section.

The rationale behind Hayden’s ousting of Pallante may be interpreted in different ways, but perhaps the reason may be Pallante’s fervent wish to sever the Copyright Office from the LC, thereby creating a new independent government agency—or that an incoming manager wanted to establish a new status quo. There is no doubt that the Copyright Office is important to Hayden, and a nationwide search is underway to find a new Register of Copyrights. Karyn Temple Claggett, former associate Register of Copyrights and director of policy and international affairs for the Copyright Office since 2013, was appointed acting Register of Copyrights.

Copyright Office Reform

After many hearings on copyright policy and reform, Congress and the House Committee on the Judiciary stepped up their game by publishing a policy statement on reforming the Copyright Office. Referencing the well-known necessity of IT upgrades and the overall need for modernizing the office, the proposal sanctioned the creation of a small claims tribunal. It reinforced Pallante’s goal of creating a separate office, stating, “The Copyright Office should remain part of the Legislative Branch where it can provide independent and timely advice to Congress on copyright law and policy. Furthermore, the Copyright Office should have autonomy over its budget and technology needs.” The statement also recommended that the new Register of Copyrights should be “subject to a nomination and consent process with a 10-year term limit, [and] subject to potential re-nomination,” similar to what is required today for the position of Librarian of Congress.


Looking both backward and forward, Keith Kupferschmid, CEO of the Copyright Alliance, says:

2016 was a year of turmoil, beginning with the resignation of James Billington, and culminating in the removal of Maria Pallante. 2017 portends to be a year of uncertainty, particularly with a new administration about to take over. … For most of this year, it appeared that the copyright highlight of the year was likely going to be the numerous studies and reports by the U.S. Copyright Office. The Copyright Office engaged the copyright community and other stakeholders on policy issues ranging from the DMCA’s [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] notice and takedown process in Section 512 and the anticircumvention provisions of Section 1201 to mandatory deposit and personably identifiable information. We also saw two small claims bills introduced by Reps. Jeffries and Marino and most recently by Reps. Chu and Smith. Small claims was also highlighted in … the House Judiciary Committee’s copyright review that was announced by Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Conyers in early December. This policy proposal is important because it represents the next step in the years-long House Judiciary Committee’s copyright review and the next step toward getting legislation introduced and passed.

While those events are significant, they pale in comparison to the news that rocked the copyright world on October 21—the day that Register Maria Pallante was removed by Dr. Carla Hayden. … It remains to be seen how the Librarian’s actions will affect the future relationship between the LC and the Copyright Office and the Librarian and the Register, but those issues will surely be played out in 2017, along with many other substantive copyright issues being considered by the Congress and the courts.

It was certainly an exciting year for both the LC and the Copyright Office. With the onset of the new year and a new Congress, there is no doubt that many more changes—possibly including the appointment of a new Register of Copyrights or the creation of a new federal copyright agency—will occur.

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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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