Friday, February 17, 2017

Create a Copyright Office for the Digital Economy

On February 6, Rep. Tom Marino introduced H.R.890, the “Copyright Office for the Digital Economy Act.” The bill would modernize the U.S. Copyright Office by reorganizing its structure and authorizing it to improve its primary functions in securing copyright protections for creative artists and their assigns. H.R.890 offers a sensible approach for finally bringing the Copyright Office into the Digital Age.

Securing copyrights and other intellectual property (IP) rights is mission-critical to promoting economic growth and jobs in the U.S. economy. “IP-intensive industries directly and indirectly supported 45.5 million jobs, about 30 percent of all employment” in 2014, according to “Intellectual Property and the U.S. Economy: A 2016 Update,” a comprehensive report released by the U.S. Department of Commerce. “IP-intensive industries accounted for $6.6 trillion in value added in 2014,” and thus contributed 38.2% of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). Moreover, a December 2016 report published by the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) titled “Copyright Industries in the U.S. Economy,” found that the “core copyright industries” generated $1.2 trillion in U.S. economic activity in 2015. That same year, copyright industries employed 5.5 million U.S. workers, or 3.87% of the nation’s workforce.

H.R. 890 would replace the Register of
Copyrights with a Director nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, subject to removal for cause by the President. Authority over administrative functions regarding copyright matters would be transferred from the Librarian of Congress to the new Director of the Copyright Office. Those provisions would significantly increase the Copyright Office’s autonomy from the Library of Congress while maintaining the Office’s status as a legislative agency. Further, the Director would be authorized to modernize the copyright registration system by facilitating more efficient registration and meaningful access to records. And the Director would be charged with establishing a Copyright Advisory Board to advise and consult with the Office on “emerging practices regarding copyright, including technology practices.”

In many respects, H.R. 890’s provisions parallel the proposal by Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Ranking Member John Conyers for modernizing the Copyright Office. Free State Foundation President Randolph J. May and I submitted to the House Judiciary Committee a letter analyzing the strong merits of the Goodlatte/Conyers proposal. Our letter also emphasized the pressing need for Copyright Office reform as well as the economic benefits that would likely result from updating its administrative functions, including a new searchable database of copyright registrations and recorded transfers of ownership.

It is encouraging to have a bill introduced in Congress that addresses copyright modernization concerns in concrete form. With bipartisan co-sponsorship, H.R. 890 was also referred to the House Judiciary Committee. The “Copyright Office for the Digital Economy Act” is a welcome addition to the ongoing copyright modernization effort and merits prompt consideration by the Judiciary Committee. Indeed, a modernized Copyright Office with sufficient autonomy and authority to perform its important functions effectively is necessary to ensure that the contribution of the copyright industries to the health and wealth of our nation’s economy continues to grow.