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House Passes Copyright Office Reform Bill

The House has passed a bipartisan bill, the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017, that would make the head of the Copyright Office a presidential appointee, term limited to 10 years.

The bill passed by a large margin, 378 to 48, but must still pass the Senate.

Currently the register is an appointment of and reports to the Librarian of Congress and has no term limit.

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 of the position 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.

Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) suggested the bill was just the start. “As the Vice-Chair of the Intellectual Property Subcommittee, I will continue to work for further modernization of the Copyright Office," he said. "This bill is the beginning, rather than the end, of our commitment to supporting cultural and economic growth by shoring up intellectual property rights and registration processes.”

“We commend all who demonstrated backing for this important piece of legislation, enabling it to be passed through the House with tremendous bipartisan support, on the momentous occasion of World IP Day," said Copyright Alliance CEO Keith Kupferschmid. “As we continue to assert, the Register of Copyrights position is essential to the U.S. economy, creativity and culture, a status that should be acknowledged by making the role a presidential appointee subject to Senate confirmation. Making the Register a presidential appointee as provided in H.R. 1695 will not only ensure that the selection process is more neutral, balanced, and transparent but it’s also critical to the continued modernization of the U.S. Copyright Office. We look forward to continued support for this issue in the Senate.”

“We applaud today’s overwhelming House passage of H.R. 1695, the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act, which – if passed by the Senate –  would, within the Copyright Office, establish a Copyright Register who is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate," said David Chavern, president of the News Media Alliance. "The bill would stabilize the role of Register by setting a term of 10 years for the position. The Copyright Register impacts the production of our members’ news media content, which must be protected by copyright laws that are enacted by Congress and implemented by the Copyright Office.  As recognized by our U.S. Constitution, copyright protections are intended to provide a return on the creative process, including the enormous cost that goes into developing high-quality journalism.  We believe this is the first step in a shift towards recognizing creators’ value and the news media industry that sustains an informed and democratic society. We strongly support this legislation and we urge the Senate to swiftly consider this bill and move it to the President’s desk.”

The National Music Publishers Association joined in the applause.

“At a time when creators constantly must defend their rights, it is critical that the Register of Copyrights is chosen carefully and vetted properly," said NMPA president David Israelite. "Making this a presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed position not only adds the oversight needed to ensure this critical role is filled by someone up to the challenge, it also elevates the position to where it always should have been—amongst the ranks of the top officials within the administration. Additionally, the 10-year term will assist in maintaining continuity in the role across administrations.

Fair use fans had taken issue with Pallante and what they said was the Copyright Office's too pro-industry bent.

"The American Library Association (ALA) opposes H.R. 1695, the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017," said American Library Association president-elect James Neal. "As this bill moves to the Senate, ALA urges all Senators to take special note of what the bill isn’t. Despite the arguments of its proponents, it isn’t related to modernization of the Copyright Office, which it will impede. It isn’t about protecting or advancing the long-term interests of all Copyright Office stakeholders, just its most powerful ones. And, by oddly outsourcing appointment of the Legislative Branch’s own copyright advisor to the Executive Branch, it isn’t the way for Congress to get the nonpoliticized counsel about fairly balanced copyright law on which the economy and public interest depend."

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.