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House Judiciary Committee Approves Bill Making Copyright Office Chief Presidential Appointee

The House Judiciary Committee has overwhelmingly approved the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act (H.R. 1695), a bipartisan bill that would make the head of the Copyright Office a presidential appointment and limit their term to 10 years. 

The vote was 27 to 1. It now goes to the Senate for a floor vote and then will need to be approved by the House.

The bill, which is an initial step in a broader review of copyright laws, had a strong pedigree, having been authored by the chair and ranking member of the committee, Bob Goodlatte (R-Va,) and John Conyers (D-Mich.), respectively. 

“In the past, the authority of the Copyright Office to conduct rule makings has been challenged in the courts because the Register is not currently Presidentially-appointed," Goodlatte and Conyers said in a joint statement. "This bipartisan legislation would put to rest, once and for all, that question, and ensures that the Register is accountable to Congress.”

The bill creates a panel made up of members of Congress and the Librarian of Congress (who used to make the pick), who would come up with a list of qualified candidates for the President to choose from.

The bill was introduced last week.

The Register of Copyrights oversees the Copyright Office, whose opinion that online video streamers aren't MVPDs when it comes to compulsory license eligibility was just deferred to by the Ninth Circuit in ruling against streamer FilmOn X. 

The duties include "legal interpretation of the copyright law… promulgating copyright regulations; advising Congress and other government officials on domestic and international copyright policy and other intellectual property issues."

There is currently an acting register, Karyn Temple Claggett, but no permanent pick, so this would apply to the next full-time official. Claggett replaced Maria Pallante, who pushed for making illegal streaming of copyrighted works a felony and 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.

Goodlatte and Conyers telegraphed some of those reforms late last year. 

"This bill is an important first step in ensuring that the Register is responsive to all interested stakeholders and is addressing the Office’s unique needs," said bill co-sponsor Judy Chu (D-Calif.). "I have called for this change throughout the Judiciary Committee’s copyright review and I am encouraged by its passage in the Committee today.”

“The Register of Copyrights is an extremely important position to the U.S. economy, creativity and culture, which should be acknowledged by making the role a presidential appointee subject to Senate confirmation—just as the head of the Patent and Trademark Office and so many other senior government officials are,” said Copyright Alliance CEO Keith Kupferschmid. "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 U.S. 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 Re:Create Coalition, whose members include artists, fair use fans and consumer tech companies, was less than pleased.

It was OK with modernizing the system but not the approach being taken here.

"The Copyright Office is already lagging behind the latest technology developments and is in need of modernization in order to effectively administer the nation’s copyright laws. Unfortunately, Congress is rushing through a bill that will not address the need to modernize the Copyright Office and will in fact slow down ongoing efforts," said coalition executive director Joshua Lamel.