The Library of Congress has started the process of filling the position of Register of Copyrights, formerly held by the much-admired Maria Pallante. Pallante was removed from office on October 21 by the new Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden. In an unprecedented move, the Library is first seeking public input on the qualifications for the incoming Register of Copyrights and the issues the new Register should focus on.
While it is highly unusual for a government agency to solicit public input on the qualifications of a government appointee (those in the best position to know the requirements of a government agency job are those who work in or with the agency), we encourage all of you to participate, as we can expect the tech community—based on past Copyright Office public comment proceedings—to generate tens of thousands of responses. Further, we believe that the survey’s goals are noble ones—to solicit public opinion as an attempt to create an open and transparent process, and to quell the uproar that arose within the creative community upon learning of Pallante’s removal.
The survey asks any member of the public to respond via SurveyMonkey to a few simple questions—what qualities the Register should possess, what issues he or she should focus on, and what other factors should be considered. The survey provides no background on what the responsibilities of the Register are or even what the Copyright Office does. While we find the usefulness of this public survey—especially as it does not first educate potential respondents—questionable, we encourage our members and all other authors and creators to complete it. It’s important that the Library hear from us, as individual authors, on how the Register will best serve the independent creative community. Here is some background on the role and responsibilities of the Copyright Office.
The online survey, available here, will be open to the public through January 31, 2017.
We’ve taken the liberty of composing, in conjunction with the Copyright Alliance, a variety of sample responses, provided below. Feel free to use as much or little as you like, but keep in mind that a variety of responses, written in each author’s own words, is likely to be more persuasive than a series of identical responses.
Lastly, we encourage you to share the link to this survey—and/or your responses to it—via social media. The more authors the Library hears from, the more likely we are to get a Register who is sympathetic to the value of books in our society and the unique set of challenges faced by authors.
- What are the knowledge, skills, and abilities you believe are the most important for the Register of Copyrights?
The next Register of Copyrights must:
- Believe in the importance of creative works to our society, understanding the important, growing role they play in the U.S. economy, as well as the cultural value of creative works;
- Understand the value of copyright in ensuring continued professional creative output and how the copyright incentives work in practice to help creators build careers in various industries and to ensure that creators can keep creating professionally);
- Be capable of articulating and evangelizing the benefits of a strong copyright system;
- Be an advocate within the government for authors and other creators (no other agency plays this role);
- Be a lawyer with deep copyright expertise and an appreciation of copyright law and the Copyright Office;
- Have management experience;
- Have experience representing the copyright interests of creators and copyright owners;
- Have experience with and understanding of the statutory responsibilities of the Copyright Office, and the services it provides, especially copyright registrations, renewals, and recordations of transfers and other documents;
- Have a vision for the Copyright Office of the future that supports the work of creators and is generally consistent with the views espoused by Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Conyers in their November 2016 policy proposal;
- Be committed to establishing the Copyright Office as an independent agency outside the Library of Congress with autonomous regulatory authority and control over its own budget and IT systems;
- Be committed to modernizing the IT infrastructure of the Copyright Office;
- Understand and have first-hand experience with the legislative process, including working with the House and Senate Judiciary Committees (this is especially important given the likelihood of copyright legislation being considered and enacted in 2017 and beyond);
- Be committed to soliciting and listening to the positions of all copyright stakeholders, balancing those positions in light of the purposes of copyright, and shaping policy positions and action items accordingly; and
- Most importantly, have the support of the copyright community.
Other qualities in a Register that would be beneficial but not essential, include having:
- Either experience with enterprise-level IT systems and databases or the capability of understanding the issues that arise when implementing and administering such systems;
- Experience working with the Copyright Office, the House or Senate Judiciary Committees, or the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office on copyright policy matters; and
- Worked on copyright policy matters on behalf of the Copyright Office, the House or Senate Judiciary Committees, or the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.
- What should be the top three priorities for the Register of Copyrights?
A Register of Copyrights possessing the knowledge, skills, and abilities outlined above will be more than qualified to make determinations about policy priorities. That being said, the following three issues are important to individual authors like myself.
[Below is a menu of seven options to choose three from; or write your own.]
- To advocate for the importance of copyright and creativity, and to articulate and promote the benefits of a strong copyright system and a modernized Copyright Office.
- To conduct studies about, and research ways to help, the dire financial straits that creators in many fields now find themselves.
- To modernize the Copyright Office by immediately implementing the Copyright Office’s IT modernization plan, which includes modernizing the Copyright Office by making the registration and recordation process easier and more affordable.
- To digitize all records and integrate them with the registration system so that today’s authors and potential users of their works can easily (and electronically) register, record, and search the Copyright Office database.
- To secure the establishment of a small copyright claims tribunal so that authors and other individual creators can assert their rights without incurring the expense of a federal lawsuit, which frequently exceeds the value of the claim itself.
- To recognize the threats digital piracy poses to the rights of authors and the value of their copyrights, and to reset the balance of the current notice and takedown statute to ensure that ISPs are not improperly profiting from unauthorized digital uses of creative works.
- To ensure that the Copyright Office and its modernization efforts are financed by means other than registration and recordation fees of individual creators, for example, by charging Copyright Office users fees for bulk or direct access to Copyright Office data.
- Are there other factors that should be considered?
It is imperative that the interests of creators and users of the Office be weighted more than those who simply complete and submit the survey but have no demonstrable experience with the Office. It is also important that both the views of the leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, current Copyright Office staff, copyright practitioners, and former Registers be taken into account in the selection of the next Register.