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Register of copyrights should be presidential appointee

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The House Judiciary Committee chairman and ranking member recently introduced the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act, H.R. 1695, which changes the process for selecting the head of the Copyright Office—called the Register of Copyrights—to be appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. 

This would reflect a change from the current process, in which the head of the Copyright Office is selected by the Librarian of Congress. H.R. 1695 is the result of months of bicameral, bipartisan discussions led by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Senate Judiciary Committee member and Senate Appropriations ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).  Intellectual Property Owners Association strongly supports the bill as an important first step toward modernizing the Copyright Office and giving it the autonomy it requires to deliver high quality services to its stakeholders and advice to Congress that is not filtered through another institution that does not share its mandate.

{mosads}Copyright is critical to the U.S., with core copyright industries contributing over $1.2 trillion to the U.S. GDP and employing more than 5.5 million U.S. workers, based on U.S. Commerce Department and Bureau of Labor Statistics data (compiled by economists in December 2016).  The Copyright Office’s mission is to administer the copyright laws, to offer services and support to authors and users of creative works, and to provide expert, impartial assistance to Congress, the courts, and executive branch agencies on questions of copyright law and policy. 

The Library of Congress, by contrast, has a very different mission—to make its resources available and useful to the American people and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations.  The two missions, although both important, are very different:  one administers laws that reward and incentivize creation by giving creators a period of exclusive rights; the other tries to make such creations widely available to the public.  Given the Library of Congress’ role in supervising the Copyright Office, this creates the potential for a conflict of interest.

On a more practical level, the Copyright Office has faced numerous IT issues and personnel shortages amidst a growing user base and its statutory ties to the Library of Congress.  These issues have been explored at length during the 20 hearings that the House Judiciary Committee has held over the past several years on the copyright system. 

A refrain emanated from those hearings:  that reform of the Copyright Office should be a major goal of any reform of the copyright law.  As the former Register of the Copyright Office put it succinctly back in March 2013, “In short, it is difficult to see how a 21st century copyright law could function well without a 21st century agency.”  IPO agrees.  A more efficient U.S. copyright system requires a more independent or autonomous Copyright Office that can deal more nimbly and ably with the complexity of copyright and is not intertwined with a larger agency that has a different mission.

IPO’s support of this bill is right in line with the IPO Board’s resolution stating that “Congress should ensure that the Copyright Office has the staffing, budget, information technology, flexibility, and autonomy it needs to meet the current and future demands of copyright owners and the public. This should be accomplished by, at the very least, passing legislation to require that the Register of the Office is a presidential nominee and that the Copyright Office is autonomous from the Library of Congress, including having its own budget and information technology systems separate from the Library of Congress.” 

Although the Copyright Office needs a complete modernization in the long term, changing the selection process for the Register is an important and necessary step in the right direction.  We urge its immediate passage.

Mark W. Lauroesch is Executive Director of the Intellectual Property Owners Association. 

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

Tags Bob Goodlatte Patrick Leahy

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