Copyright Office Modernization Bills Wending Their Way Through Congress

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The US House Subcommittee on Intellectual Property has held many hearings over the past five years, leading to what the Subcommittee has announced will be several proposals for change to US copyright law in pursuit of updating it for the 21st century context. Among the proposals most likely to pass is a series of measures called, collectively, “modernization of the copyright office.”

On April 26, 2017 the US House of Representatives passed bill H.R. 1695, “The Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act,” which, if enacted, would change the way in which the Register of Copyrights is appointed. Instead of the current process of appointment for indefinite terms by the Librarian of Congress, the Register would become an independent presidential appointee—nominated from a short list of mostly Congressionally-recommended individuals and confirmed by the Senate—for a fixed term of 10 years. The bill would also increase the directness of the relationship between the Register and Congress, which by statute relies on the Register for both technical and practical copyright advice.

If you haven’t been staying up to date on the discussions around the legislation, here are five things you should know about the bill as it makes its way to the Senate for a final vote:

#1 – Publishers, Creators and the Copyright Industry are all Championing the Bill

The Copyright Alliance, as well as organizations such as the National Music Publishers Association and Songwriters of North America, are among the most vocal supporters, while the Motion Picture Association of America and the Software & Information Industry Association have also championed its passing.

#2 – On the Other Hand, Not Everyone Is a Fan

The American Library Association’s Library Copyright Alliance has voiced its opposition to the legislation, as have some Silicon Valley-related trade groups, including Public Knowledge, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Re:Create coalition. The alignment of organizations for and against the bill is typical for copyright legislation.

#3 – Previous Registers of Copyright Support It

Former Registers Marybeth Peters (in office 1994-2010) and Ralph Oman (in office 1985-1993) voiced their concerns about the relationship between the Copyright Office and the Library of Congress. Both lend support to the bill, asserting that Congress should have access to “independent copyright advice straight and true from the expert agency” as opposed to “filtered through the lens – and shaped by the perspective – of the head of the national library.”

#4 – A Step Toward Modernizing the Copyright Office

Core copyright businesses contribute more than $1.2 trillion to the U.S. economy and create more than 5 million jobs, so it’s no surprise that so many are invested in the outcome. Other groups intended to be beneficiaries of the copyright system, including singer-songwriters, photographers, novelists, etc., often struggle to navigate the complexities of the copyright registration process, sometimes foregoing it altogether. Many are hoping that a Copyright Office with separate budget authority from Congress would swiftly introduce operational reforms that match the speed of innovation and creation in the U.S. For those with that end in view, this bill represents a first step.

#5 – There is No Timeframe for Passage

The bill was introduced in the Senate at the beginning of May 2017 and was referred to the Committee on Rules and Administration. There is currently no scheduled consideration of the bill by the Rules Committee on the calendar and it may even receive a sequential referral to the Judiciary Committee (responsible for copyright-related legislation). This means it still needs to clear all committees with jurisdiction before it can be voted on by the full Senate.

Regardless how the Senate votes, this bill has brought attention to the importance of modernizing the Copyright Office. It has encouraged various industry and private sector groups to consider what the most important issues in copyright are, and continuing these conversations and debates will be vital in the evolution of copyright in the U.S.

Roy Kaufman

Author: Roy Kaufman

Roy Kaufman is CCC's managing director of new ventures, responsible for expanding service capabilities as CCC moves into new markets and services. He is a member of organizations including the Bar of the State of New York and the Copyright Committee of the International Publishers Association. Roy is Editor-in-Chief of Art Law Handbook and has authored two books on publishing contract law.

For inquiries related to this blog, email: sweston@copyright.com