Skip to main content

Copyright Office Revamp Proposed

The next head of the Copyright Office should be term-limited and vetted by the Senate before being installed, that was among the takeaways from an initial Copyright Office reform proposal released Thursday by the bipartisan leadership of the House Judiciary Committee as part of an ongoing review, a proposal praised by Hollywood studios.

The plan, from House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.), is to keep the office part of the legislative branch, where it can be an independent advisor to Congress.

But as to how the register is chosen, they said it should be subject to a nomination and consent process with a 10-year term limit, rather than an appointee of the Librarian of Congress.

They also suggested adding a chief economist, chief technologist and deputy register.

Goodlatte and Conyers are proposing that the office also create permanent advisory committees, which they say is needed because the office should have quicker information regarding marketplace changes as it develops policies and provides guidance to federal agencies."

They also said the office should have a "small claims" mechanism to deal with "low value" infringement cases.

The legislators are seeking input on the proposal, and they are getting it.

“The MPAA welcomes House Judiciary Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Conyers’ proposal on Copyright Office modernization, which builds on important work by Representatives Issa, Nadler, Marino, Chu, Comstock, Deutch, and Chaffetz," said Joanna McIntosh, executive VP for global policy and external affairs at the Motion Picture Association of America. "Copyright Office modernization was identified as a critical issue in the House Judiciary Committee’s thorough copyright review, even before the recent events surrounding the Register."

New Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden replaced Maria Pallante as head of the U.S. Copyright Office. As head of the U.S. Copyright Office, Pallante pushed for making illegal streaming of copyrighted works a felony and more recently shared ISP concerns with the impact of the FCC's set-top box proposal on copyrights and contracts. Fair use fans, including Public Knowledge, had taken issue with Pallante and what they said was the Copyright Office's too pro-industry bent.

“A vibrant, modern copyright system depends on a vibrant, modern Copyright Office," said McIntosh. "The current structure dates back to the 19th century and, as many members of Congress as well as past Registers have stated, in the 21st century the Copyright Office needs policy and operational autonomy to meet its statutory obligations to Congress and the public.”

Public Knowledge agreed that the office needed to be brought into the digital age but had "some significant questions and potential concerns" with the proposals, including that it would make the office too independent of oversight.

"Like any other government agency – particularly one with a documented history of regulatory capture – the Copyright Office needs rigorous accountability and oversight," said Public Knowledge general counsel Ryan Clough. "It is unclear whether the current proposal would eliminate all supervision by the Librarian of Congress, making the Copyright Office a free-floating regulatory agency housed within the legislative branch.

“The proposal to create a special small claims process for copyright owners will require substantial further deliberation. It is critical that Congress not create a new litigation process that copyright trolls could hijack. It is also unclear why this new forum for lawsuits should be housed within the legislative branch as opposed to other federal courts."

The Re-Create Coalition, which like Public Knowledge advocates for fair use of copyrighted material, had some issues as well.

“The Re:Create Coalition thanks Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Ranking Member John Conyers for their review of our nation’s copyright system over the past several years. We agree with them and many other stakeholders that the U.S. Copyright Office needs to be modernized to keep pace with the digital age, and this long-awaited legislation could help achieve that goal. While it addresses important areas for reform, we have some concerns and unanswered questions about the policy proposal. We look forward to working with Chairman Goodlatte, Ranking Member Conyers and other members of Congress to improve the proposal and modernize the Copyright Office.

“NAB appreciates the work of Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Conyers in taking this important step forward in the Judiciary Committee's review of the copyright law. As proposals from leadership in both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees recognize, a modern Copyright Office is essential to the ability of copyright owners and users to effectively serve consumers in today's digital marketplace," said National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith. "NAB looks forward to working with members on both sides of the aisle to continue to address this consensus issue next Congress.”

“The Copyright Alliance commends Reps. Chu and Smith for introducing legislation today designed to support individual creators and small businesses regarding enforcement of their copyrighted works," said Copyright Alliance CEO Keith Kupferschmid. "Federal litigation is often difficult (or impossible) for many individual creators and small businesses to undertake, resulting in them having rights, but no remedies. So we are very appreciative of the efforts by Reps. Chu and Smith and grateful for their support for creators who lack the resources to use the federal court system to enforce their copyrights.  We look forward to working with Reps. Chu and Smith, and many other interested policymakers and stakeholders to enact small claims legislation in the next session of congress.”

The Library Copyright Alliance says that while it "enthusiastically" supports modernizing the office. it has some problems with the proposal. "[T]he Librarian of Congress – confirmed in large part for her expertise in managing complicated library technology overhauls – should not defer the appointment of a new Register of Copyrights who can immediately act to bring the office into the 21st Century.  That need is simply too pressing to wait for what promises to be a long legislative debate over the Copyright Office’s possible autonomy from the Library of Congress to be concluded."

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.