On April 26, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1695, the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017. The House should be commended for passing the bill. H.R. 1695 would restructure the Copyright Office, increasing its autonomy from the Library of Congress while preserving the Office’s status as a legislative agency. Restructuring of the Office would improve its ability to implement technological upgrades and enhance its capabilities in performing essential copyright registration and recordation functions.
Specifically, H.R. 1695 would give the Copyright Office more autonomy by making the Register of Copyrights appointed by the President – rather than by the Librarian of Congress – and subject to Senate confirmation. As amended by the House Judiciary Committee in March, H.R.1695 would establish a selection process involving a committee comprised of Congressional leaders and the Librarian of Congress. The committee would provide the President a list of three or more possible nominees. The Committee also amended the bill to provide that the Register can be removed only for cause.
FSF President May and I described the need for Copyright Office modernization and the economic benefits of updating its administrative functions in a January 31 letter to the House Judiciary Committee. We reiterated the importance of passing Copyright Office modernization legislation such as H.R. 1695 in our April 23 op-ed published in The Hill: “Protect Intellectual Property Rights on World IP Day – and Every Day.” Our op-ed cites December 2016 report findings by the International Intellectual Property Rights Alliance that market participants with a main purpose to generate copyrighted content employed over 5.5 million U.S. workers in 2015 alone. Those same market participants added over $1.2 trillion in value to the U.S. economy in 2015. A restructured Copyright Office operating a modernized recordation and registration system would be likely be able to reduce search and other administrative compliance costs for copyright holders and prospective copyright holders, thereby reducing search and other transaction costs and enhancing market values for copyrighted works.
Now having been passed by the House, H.R. 1695 – the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017 – is proceeding to the other chamber. Surely, this important legislation merits prompt consideration by the Senate.