Copyright Reform Needed for New Era of Creativity
Posted by J. Scott Evans, Director of Trademarks
Copyrights provide tremendous value to the U.S. economy and culture, contributing more than $1.2 trillion to the U.S. GDP and employing more than 5.5 million Americans in industries that depend on a strong copyright system. The Copyright Office, headed by the Register of the Copyrights, plays a central role in helping creators protect their work, but the nation’s copyright system is not keeping up with changing trends and the Register is not subject to Congressional approval. To keep up with advances in technology and content development, Congress needs to modernize the Copyright Office so that it can continue to administer the nation’s copyright laws, offer services and support to creators and users of creative works, along with providing expert, impartial assistance to Congress, the courts, and executive branch agencies on questions of copyright law and policy.
Currently, the Register is unilaterally selected by the Librarian of Congress. This process requires no direct input from the Administration or Congress. While the Library of Congress (LOC) has a mission of national importance as well, it is different than and sometimes in conflict with the role of the Copyright Office. The Copyright Office administers laws that reward and incentivize creation by giving creators a period of exclusive rights, whereas the goal of the Library of Congress is to make such creations widely available to the public. This creates clear conflicts of interest that can harm the nation’s creators and innovators. The Copyright Office has also faced numerous IT challenges and personnel shortages that the Library has not helped to rectify. Too often, the Copyright Office’s efforts to modernize have been stymied by the competing needs and direction of the LOC.
As more and more industries grow to depend on the Copyright Office, Congress needs impartial copyright advice. Thankfully, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, (R-VA), has introduced H.R. 1695, The Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017 (RCSAA), which would make the Register of Copyrights a presidential appointee subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.
The Register of Copyrights does far more than just administer the copyright registration system. The Register serves as the top advisor to the president and the Administration on all matters related to copyright policy and helps Congress develop copyright legislation. Much like other presidential appointees that require Senate approval, the Register has significant impact on a number of industries that are critical to the US economy. H.R. 1695 would finally give Congress a formal role in selecting its advisor through the confirmation process, reflecting the growing importance of copyright to our economy and culture.
The bill is an essential step in modernizing an antiquated Copyright Office. Making the Register a presidential appointee subject to Senate confirmation ensures a more neutral and fair selection process compared to the status quo, increases accountability, and gives all Americans a voice in the selection of the Register through their elected representatives. This simple change will also help ensure that the Register of Copyrights has the voice and resources needed to implement policy, manage its operations, and organize its information technology in a way that brings the Copyright Office into the 21st century
Adobe encourages Speaker Ryan and the House leadership to take up the measure for a floor vote as soon as possible. Thanks to the bill’s modest approach, the bill enjoys overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. In fact, the House Judiciary Committee approved the measure by a decisive 27-1 vote earlier this year – something practically unheard of in today’s hyper-partisan environment.
The time to move H.R. 1695 is now. Congress and the nation’s creative industries have been working together for more than four years to craft this bipartisan, bicameral bill that will improve the nation’s copyright system. Presidential appointment and Senate confirmation puts the Copyright Office on a better footing to meet its statutory duties and serve the American people for generations to come.