Federal lawmakers are calling for an independent Copyright Office that would be led by a Register nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday released the first in what is expected to be a series of reforms. They suggest keeping a newly independent office in the Legislative branch, and funding technology upgrades including a searchable, digital database of historical and current copyright ownership.
Coming on the heels of the resignation of Copyright Register Maria Pallante, and previous suggestions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, the proposals set up a show-down between Congress and new librarian Carla D. Hayden over the future of the agency.
Pallante, who served as head of the agency since 2011, resigned in October after Hayden abruptly assigned her to a new position that required she vacate her office and submit weekly reports to a deputy librarian about her duties, including a review of the library’s retail operation. Hayden took office in September.
Hayden’s dismissal of Pallante was criticized by groups representing artists and creators, who viewed Pallante as an ally. Several members of Congress voiced their disappointment in the leadership change, while two former Registers wrote to Congress seeking an investigation into what they described as her “unseemly dismissal.” Several internet advocacy groups, and the American Library Association, expressed support for Hayden’s move.
The proposed reforms are aimed at modernizing the agency, a global economic force that has struggled to keep pace with technological advances. A part of the Library of Congress, the office has been hindered by the library’s long-standing technological failures.
“These policy proposals are not meant to be the final word on reform in these individual issue areas, but rather a starting point for further discussion by all stakeholders, with the goal of producing legislative text within each issue area,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va) and ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich) in a joint statement.
Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who issued their reforms earlier this year, said they looked forward to working with their House colleagues. “Based on our extensive consultation with a broad range of stakeholders, we believe the Copyright Office should have more independence, accountability, and authority to make decisions in areas such as IT, budget, and staffing,” they said in a joint statement Thursday.
The reforms were welcomed by many organizations involved in the modernization effort.
“Music is one of our nation’s greatest exports, and ASCAP will continue to work with Congress to advocate for copyright and music licensing reforms that will protect the creative contributions of songwriters and composers,” said American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers chief executive Elizabeth Matthews.
Motion Picture Association of America Executive Vice President Joanna McIntosh said the modernization effort is critical. “A vibrant, modern copyright system depends on a vibrant, modern Copyright Office. 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,” she said.
But while artists and their representatives privately say they would like Hayden to wait to name a permanent Register, others are encouraging her to do the job she was hired to do.
“The investment in modernization and technology is crucial and it’s good to see it outlined in detail,” said James G. Neal, president-elect of the American Library Association and an expert on copyright. “Let’s get on with it, allow Carla Hayden to recruit a new register and begin the process of modernization.”
Moving the agency from the Library of Congress will be a complex project, Neal said, and could needlessly slow the modernization it desperately needs. “We’ll make the case to move forward now, with the leadership of Carla Hayden,” he said.
The House committee is seeking public comment on the proposal through Jan. 31. A library spokeswoman said Hayden plans to release a timeline for the hiring a Register by year’s end.