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As former Copyright Office leaders, we support an autonomous register of copyrights

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Last fall we wrote to Congress expressing our concern about the decaying relationship between the Library of Congress and the Copyright Office. Since that time, the situation has worsened, and, as we predicted, Congress is moving to intervene. 

We applaud the introduction of the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017, H.R. 1695, which would make the Register of Copyrights a presidential appointee subject to Senate confirmation. We support this legislation because it accords the Office of the Register the respect it deserves as steward of copyright policy and the creative economy. It also gives Congress a formalized role in selecting its statutorily designated copyright advisor, improves accountability, and increases transparency by allowing citizen input into the selection of the Register through their elected officials. We were happy to see that the House Judiciary Committee reported out the bill by the overwhelming, bipartisan vote of 27-1.

{mosads}We regret that the lone dissenter based her objections on reasons unrelated to the merits of the bill. One can disagree with a former Register on policy grounds and still see the virtue of Office modernization and independence.

One can seek to correct the destructive tensions in an official relationship without impugning the stature of either the Register or the Librarian. Indeed, the proposal to make the Register a presidential appointee predates by years Maria Pallante’s tenure as Register, Dr. Carla Hayden’s tenure as Librarian, and for that matter, Donald Trump’s term as president.

All of this is beside the point. What should not be ignored is that the problem in the relationship between the Library and the Copyright Office is structural, not personal or political.

Neither Pallante’s endorsement in principle of greater autonomy for the Copyright Office nor Hayden’s decision to remove her created these tensions. Rather, they are inevitable given the divergent roles of the two organizations. Stripped to its basics, the choice is stark: Does Congress want modernization and independent copyright advice straight and true from the expert agency, or does it want copyright administration and advice filtered through the lens – and shaped by the perspective – of the head of the national library?

Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), and a large bipartisan cadre of their colleagues understand this. We are gratified by that overwhelming support for this first step in restructuring and modernizing the Copyright Office.

Ralph Oman served as the Register of Copyrights from 1985-1993. Marybeth Peters served as Register of Copyrights from 1994-2010.

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

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