House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has finally launched the first stage of his long-awaited review of US copyright law by introducing a legislation aimed at modernising the US Copyright Office (USCO).
Yesterday, Goodlatte and Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) introduced the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act. In a statement, the Judiciary Committee said that the Act "makes important changes to the selection process for the head of the US Copyright Office, known as the Register of Copyrights."
Specifically, the legislation requires the register to be nominated by the President of the United States and subject to confirmation by the US Senate. It would also limit the register to a 10-year term which is renewable by another Presidential nomination and Senate confirmation.
Until now, the USCO was sheltered under the umbrella of the Library of Congress and the Register of Copyright was nominated by the Librarian of Congress. By making the Register a Presidential appointee, the Judiciary Committee also opens the door for the USCO to become an independent agency, part of the executive, under Senate supervision.
Under current Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, appointed last year by President Obama, former US Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante was pressured to resign. Pallante had on several occasions expressed her wish to see the USCO become a stand-alone agency, outside of the realm of the Library of Congress. A process to replace Pallante was launched by Hayden.
The Register Of Copyrights Selection And Accountability Act is the result of months of bipartisan discussions led by Goodlatte, Conyers, Senate judiciary committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Senate judiciary committee member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). It was introduced with 29 bipartisan co-sponsors.
“We are pleased to join together in a bipartisan, bicameral effort to make important and necessary improvements to the selection process for the position of register of copyrights," said Goodlatte, Conyers, Grassley, Feinstein, and Leahy in a joint statement. "We remain absolutely committed to working on modernising the Copyright Office. Reforms being considered include public advisory committees, improvements to Copyright Office systems for data inputs and outputs, and copyright ownership transparency. However, time is of the essence when it comes to the selection process for a new Register of Copyrights.
“America’s creativity is the envy of the world and the Copyright Office is at the center of it. With the current Register serving only on an acting basis, now is the time to make changes to ensure that future Registers are transparent and accountable to Congress. We must ensure that any new Register is a good manager and fully qualified to lead and make this office more operationally effective as he or she continues to directly advise Congress on copyrights. The next Register of Copyrights should be dedicated to serving all stakeholders in the copyright ecosystem.”
This new development comes after a thorough review of US copyright law started in 2013 by Chairman Goodlatte. As part of the copyright review, the House Judiciary Committee held 20 hearings which included testimony from 100 witnesses. In December 2016, Goodlatte and Conyers released the first policy proposal to come out of the Committee’s review of US Copyright law, stating that they would focus first on areas where bipartisan and stakeholder consensus could be reached.
US Chamber of Commerce EVP of the Global Intellectual Property Center Mark Elliot commented: “Innovative and creative industries are encouraged by Congress’ commitment to the ongoing process to modernise the US Copyright Office. The office plays a critical role in fostering American creativity and innovation: copyright-intensive industries support 5.6 million jobs in the US alone. It is extremely important that Congress continue its work on office modernisation going forward in order to provide the office with the right leadership and IT capabilities to better serve the American people and companies. We applaud congressional leaders on the introduction of this bipartisan bill as an important first step in this process, and we will continue to work with them as they seek to strengthen and improve our nation’s copyright office.”
US cross-industry body the Copyright Alliance "applauded" the introduction of the legislation. “The Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act represents an important first step in the efforts to modernise the US Copyright Office," said Copyright Alliance CEO Keith Kupferschmid. "Few government offices are more essential to the economy, jobs and creativity in the United States than the US Copyright Office. This bill, which is the result of over four years of copyright policy hearings held by the House Judiciary Committee, demonstrates the growing importance and the need for a more prominent role for the position of Register of Copyrights. Making the Register position a presidential appointment confirmed by the Senate has the additional benefit of ensuring a more balanced and neutral selection process compared to the existing process, which does not require any direct input from the Administration or Congress.”