As a member of Congress with the honor of representing parts of the greater Los Angeles region, I’m intimately aware of the importance of the creative economy to everyday Californians and the country as a whole. Indeed, the MPAA reports that the film and television industry alone directly employs over 191,000 Californians (including over 127,000 production jobs in Los Angeles County), paying them almost $20 billion in wages. And according to one recent report, the core copyright industries (music, film/TV, video games, publishing, etc.) contribute 5.5 million jobs and $1.2 trillion of GDP to the U.S. economy. Copyright puts America to work.
That’s why I’ve been a supporter of a strong copyright system—the foundation of a strong creative economy—since I came to Congress. That’s also why Congress must pass H.R. 1695, the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act, which would make the Register of Copyrights a Presidentially appointed, Senate confirmed position. The bill was passed out of the House Judiciary Committee by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 27-1. It should enjoy similar success when it comes to the House floor in the coming weeks.
But there are those that are challenging why this change is being proposed now. In reality, this effort started with the review of the Copyright Act by the Judiciary Committee. And, in 2015, Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) and I introduced the Copyright Office for the Digital Economy Act, which would elevate the Register much as H.R. 1695 would today.
The nomination and confirmation idea is rooted in the legitimate policy rationale that modernizing the Copyright Office is essential. The Copyright Office, over which the Register of Copyrights presides, has many important functions, including helping to shape copyright policy by statutorily acting as Congress’ impartial advisor on copyright law. This advice comes in the form of numerous reports and analyses on questions of law and policy, and is an indispensable resource for Congress as we consider how to ensure copyright law continues to promote American creativity and innovation.
I know this firsthand. For years, I served on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, where I regularly consulted the Copyright Office. I also co-chair the Creative Rights Caucus, a bipartisan group of more than 50 Members of Congress that work to advance the priorities of the creative workforce. Most other officials that oversee industries of similar significance are selected through a nomination and confirmation process. It makes sense for the head of the Copyright Office to be selected in the same way in light of the importance of the creative workforce in our economy.
The Copyright Office also maintains the registration and recordation databases upon which creators, licensees, users and consumers rely, but that are antiquated and outdated. However, because the Office is located within the Library of Congress, which has its own important mission to fulfill, former Registers have been unable to get the support from the Library that is necessary to implement essential reforms to modernize the Office for the digital age. The consequences of this arrangement were on full display in September 2015 when a massive IT failure at the Library also took down the Copyright Office’s systems. The Washington Post reported the outage “cost the office an estimated $650,000 in lost fees and caus[ed] headaches for approximately 12,000 customers.” What’s more, if not for the foresight of the Copyright Office’s CTO, the entire registration and recordation databases could have been lost forever because of the Library’s IT failure—thereby depriving the Library and the nation of an important cultural record.
In a partisan world copyright policy has remained one of the truly non-partisan issues, enjoying broad support on both sides of the aisle. We should continue working down that path to ensure our nation’s Copyright Office is able to serve all stakeholders in today’s modern age.
Chu represents California's 27th District. She is a member of the Creative Rights Caucus.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.