H.R. 1695: A vital first step towards Copyright Office modernization

For years, the creative community has been demanding change for one of the nation’s most important governmental bodies for creators: the United States Copyright Office.  Now, there is a chance to actually make something happen, and it’s essential that Congress doesn’t blow this opportunity. 

On Wednesday, April 26, the House is voting on the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act (H.R. 1695).  There is no reason the bill, rightly called a “no-brainer” last week in The Hill by Richard Gladstein, Jason Kliot, and David O’Ferrall, shouldn’t pass with enthusiastic bipartisan support. 

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The bill changes the appointment system for the Register of Copyrights, the head of the Copyright Office who advises Congress on copyright matters.  Currently, the Register is appointed by the Librarian of Congress, who is rarely … in tune with copyright issues, to put it mildly. As just one example, in 2015 the Library of Congress once published a biography of Mark Twain that used plagiarized excerpts and materials from copyrighted publications held at the Library of Congress. Then last year, without warning or justification, the Librarian fired Register Maria Pallante, long heralded as a fantastic Register and advocate for strong copyright protection.  

This is who is trusted to nominate the person who heads our most sacred institution charged with protecting copyrights?

To address this, H.R. 1695 changes the Register position to a presidential appointment with confirmation by the Senate, with 10-year term limit. The Register advises Congress and accordingly, Congress should have a hand in who holds this position.  It makes sense to appoint the Register via a standard nomination process involving our elected representatives, same as most other high-ranking government officials. Why should the Librarian have unilateral authority over an appointment that impacts so many livelihoods in the United States?

This bill is also supported by two previous Registers of Copyright, Marybeth Peters and Ralph Oman. They point out that the Act would address issues that have escalated in the relationship between the Copyright Office and the Library, which they state are “structural, not personal or political”, and explain that Congress should be able to obtain “independent copyright advice straight and true from the expert agency” rather than “filtered through the lens - and shaped by the perspective - of the head of the national library”.  Their opinion should carry great weight here—especially since they were themselves appointed unilaterally by the Librarian.

There are many more issues with the Copyright Office that Congress needs to address going forward, such as a severe lack of funding preventing them from modernizing their infrastructure and the need to make it an independent agency apart from the Library of Congress.  For more information on these issues, please read two previous Hill op-eds by on this subject, “Copyrights different than patents, trademarks” and “The Copyright Office: Our bastard stepchild six times removed”.

But for now, the Act is a great start.  Thank you, Chairman Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteBooker wants more scrutiny of Amazon-Whole Foods merger Dem wants hearing on Amazon's bid for Whole Foods Surveillance reform déjà vu MORE (R-Va.) and the rest of the Judiciary Committee, for sponsoring and advancing this measure.  I just hope the rest of Congress doesn’t let us down.

Dina LaPolt, Esq. and John Meller practice law at LaPolt Law, P.C., a boutique transactional entertainment law firm in West Hollywood, California that specializes in representing music creators. In addition to practicing law, Ms. LaPolt serves the attorney advisor to the GRAMMY Creators Alliance and Songwriters of North America (SONA). She has been named to the Hollywood Reporter’s Power Lawyers Top Music Business Attorneys, Variety’s Dealmakers Impact Report, Billboard’s Music’s Most Powerful Attorneys, and Billboard’s Women in Music.  Mr. Meller serves on the Recording Academy Los Angeles Chapter Advocacy Committee. 

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.