After visiting Capitol Hill, where we spent the entire time speaking to policymakers about the importance of copyright to the creative communities, we are gravely concerned.
Last month, in a positive step for creatives, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), along with 29 co-sponsors, introduced the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act (H.R. 1695). Last week, the bill passed the House Judiciary Committee with a virtually unprecedented, bipartisan, 27-1 vote.
The Register of Copyrights heads the Copyright Office and is Congress’ expert advisor on copyright policy. Yet in a more than 100-year-old accident of history, Congress does not choose its own advisor; the Register is unilaterally chosen by the Librarian of Congress.
H.R. 1695 is simple and straightforward in its approach. It would make the Register of Copyrights a position nominated from a pool of qualified candidates recommended by Congressional leadership, nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. This would not only increase accountability to Congress, but also improve transparency by giving every American a voice in the selection of the Register through their elected representatives.
The Act looks to take an important first step in modernizing the Copyright Office. There is every reason for the Register of Copyrights to be subject to the same nomination and confirmation process as other top government officials. The standing of the Copyright Office should reflect the value of the economic and cultural contributions of the creative economy that it oversees.
The United States is home to the largest, most influential, and most valuable copyright industries on the planet. Apart from accounting for 6.88 percent of the U.S. economy, the copyright industries create more revenue from exports than both pharmaceuticals and agriculture – two industries that are directly represented in government by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA). It is high time that the Copyright Office be led by a presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed individual, and be equipped to handle 21st century copyright issues.
Let’s be clear – the centerpiece of any strong copyright system is a strong Copyright Office. We make films, we tell stories, and we rely on a strong copyright system to make a living. This matters to us.
However, there are some politicians with deep relationships to those who benefit from a weak copyright system that are casting partisan aspersions in an attempt to sabotage the bill. This ignores that members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, in both the House and Senate, have been working on this issue for years, including under the last Administration.
The Copyright Office’s role is far more than a ministerial one intended to serve the collection needs of the Library of Congress. While some may have you believe that the Copyright Office does little more than administer the registration and recordation systems, this is patently false. The Office plays the critical role of advisor to Congress and the Executive Branch on copyright law and policy – meaning that the Office is the in-house expert on legislation that can deeply affect the job stability of more than 5.5 million hardworking Americans.
To be sure, the Library of Congress has a mission of national importance. But that mission gives it a particular view of copyright that differs from the Copyright Office. The Copyright Office is charged with effectuating the constitutionally enshrined notion that protecting creatives’ rights over how their content is disseminated promotes the creation and wide distribution of knowledge and creativity, to everyone’s benefit. It is no secret that libraries have a vested interest in loosening copyright laws to reduce their cost to access and distribute copyrighted works. The current structure, which makes the Register of Copyrights a subordinate officer within the Library, prevents the Copyright Office from working in the best interests of the creative industry and the public at large.
Need proof? Check out this quote from the American Library Association (ALA) regarding the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the single most important piece of copyright legislation in the age of digital piracy: “Despite the work of libraries and other partners … the DMCA tilts strongly in favor of copyright holders.”
I guess that the folks at the ALA, “the oldest and largest library association in the world,” have not heard about the 900 MILLION DMCA takedown requests that Google receives each year. Google, which only represents a part of the total digital piracy landscape, receives 900 MILLION notices about copyright infringing material that is being served through its platform every year. NINE. HUNDRED. MILLION. TIMES. EVERY. YEAR.
Saying that “the DMCA tilts strongly in favor of copyright holders” is like saying that regulations on the meatpacking industry tilt heavily in favor of cows.
And it doesn’t end there – Dr. Carla Hayden, the current Librarian of Congress and the overseer of the Copyright Office, is a past president of the American Library Association.
But this isn’t about any one Librarian or any one President or even any one Register of Copyrights. This is about creativity, and creatives, and the creative economy. It is about the millions of Americans who deserve a Copyright Office that works for them in a way that reflects the modern realities of the copyright landscape.
The Copyright Office MUST be led by a presidentially-appointed and Senate-confirmed individual. It must be equipped financially and technologically to deal with 21st century copyright issues. And it must be given the ability to oversee an industry that contributes more than a trillion dollars to the economy and allows millions of Americans to get up and go to work.
The Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act (H.R. 1695) is just a first step in a long process that will allow the Copyright Office to function as it should. It merely gives the leader of the Office the same level of importance as other government officials who oversee industries that are often smaller in influence and value to our nation’s economy. It is logical for such a position to require a presidential nomination and the support of our Senate.
Enough with the back and forth. H.R. 1695 is a no-brainer. Get it done.
Richard N. Gladstein is a two-time Oscar®-nominated film producer – his most recent film is “The Hateful Eight.” Jason Kliot is the producer of over 50 feature films by such acclaimed directors as Jim Jarmusch, Brian De Palma, Steven Soderbergh, Miguel Arteta, Hal Hartley, Nicole Holofcener, Alex Gibney, and Todd Solondz. David O'Ferrall, with over 30 years of industry experience, is Business Agent of Local 487, IATSE representing over 800 working men and women in Motion Picture and Television production in Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.