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New Legislation Paves Way to Copyright Office Independence

In an important step toward reforming the U.S. Copyright Office and increasing its independence, House leadership yesterday introduced legislation that would require the Register of Copyrights to be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate for a renewable term of 10 years.

The bill, known as the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act, was introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), and is co-sponsored by 29 members. It is part of the overall plan to provide the Office with more autonomy. The Authors Guild joined the debate from the start through written comments, lobbying efforts, and phone calls with other stakeholders.

“The importance of the creative sector to our cultural and economic welfare is incalculable,” said Authors Guild executive director Mary Rasenberger. “The Authors Guild thanks and applauds Reps. Goodlatte and Conyers for recognizing that by introducing this bill, which paves the way to Copyright Office modernization, the Copyright Office will be able to better serve the creative sector.”

Until this bill is passed, the Librarian of Congress retains the power to appoint and remove the Register of Copyrights, and is currently undergoing a selection process to fill that position after last fall’s removal of former Register Maria Pallante. Members of the Judiciary Committee reportedly were upset about not being consulted prior to the Librarian’s removal of Ms. Pallante, as well as by the Librarian’s insistence on moving ahead with the Library’s search for a new Register after being asked to suspend it. In particular, they are concerned that she is asking members of the public what the qualifications of the Register should be through a SurveyMonkey poll, rather than looking to the Copyright Act or consulting with Congress. As Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) stated in a press release yesterday:

“It has become increasingly clear that the Register of Copyrights needs greater autonomy from the Library of Congress in order to carry out its core mission. While Congress has been working toward that end, the Librarian of Congress has moved in a different direction by disregarding the qualifications set out in Title 17 of the U.S. Code in her efforts to fill the Register vacancy with her own candidate.”