Friday, April 7, 2017

House Judiciary Committee approves 27-1 the Register of Copyrights bill

By Emmanuel Legrand

The Judiciary Committee in the US House of Representatives has approved on March 29 by a vote of 27-1 the bipartisan Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act (H.R. 1695), introduced the week before by Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. This legislative step paves the way for the bill to be discussed and voted by the House.

The bill would require for the President of the United States to appoint the Register of Copyrights, who runs the Copyright Office (USCO), and for the Senate to ratify the presidential choice. At the moment, the USCO sits within the Library of Congress and the Register is appointed by the Librarian of Congress.

In prepared remarks during the House Judiciary Committee’s markup of bill H.R. 1695, Goodlatte said that with the enactment of this legislation, both the head of the Patent and Trademark Office and Copyright Office would be subject to a nomination and consent process. He added, "The lack of a nomination and consent process for the Register has led to repeated litigation that this legislation would finally resolve. The legislation also creates matching 10-year terms of the Register of Copyrights and the Librarian of Congress. 

"A 10-year term is sufficient for the next Register and all that follow to make major changes on Copyright Office operations without worrying about a short timespan to make those changes. Since the Copyright Office is part of the Legislative Branch, I understand that an amendment will be offered to ensure that Members of Congress pick the slate of candidates from which the President must chose a nominee."

Filling a critical gap

The position of Register has been vacant since the summer of 2016, when Maria Pallante resigned amid a conflict with the Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden, who seeked to reassign Pallante to other tasks within the LoC. Hayden is currently in the process of shortlisting candidates for the position. Goodlatte said that The Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017 "fills a critical gap that currently exists in the selection process for all future Registers of Copyright."

He continued: "The current vacancy within the Register’s Office is a timely one as we consider the Copyright Office of the future. But we should not hold up replacement of the Register to resolve the other issues that will take more time to address. So I and 29 of my colleagues introduced this legislation as a way to speed up consideration of this key component before other changes to the Copyright Office are made. We have also worked in tandem with the Senate Judiciary Committee whose bipartisan leaders share our concern that we need to act while the Register position is vacant."

Modernising the USCO

Cross-industry organisation the Copyright Alliance applauded the "prompt and decisive" and near-unanimous passage of the bill. Copyright Alliance CEO Keith Kupferschmid commented: “The Register of Copyrights is an extremely important position to the US economy, creativity and culture, which should be acknowledged by making the role a presidential appointee subject to Senate confirmation – just as the head of the Patent and Trademark Office and so many other senior government officials are. 

"Making the Register a presidential appointee as provided in H.R.1695 will not only make the selection process more effective and transparent but it’s also critical to the continued modernisation of the US Copyright Office. The bill enjoys widespread bipartisan support and little opposition because of the narrow and modest approach taken and the tremendous support for a more transparent process for selecting the next Register of Copyrights."

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