10 Most Memorable Copyright Moments of 2016

Ask anyone… 2016 was quite a year, to say the least. From Brexit, to killer clowns, to the U.S Presidential election, there was literally never a dull moment. The creative community was hit especially hard by the deaths of some of the world’s most revered creators, including Prince, Harper Lee, David Bowie, Maurice White, Elie Wiesel, and most recently George Michael, Carrie Fisher, and Debbie Reynolds. It was a year of ups and downs for us all, and even copyright was no stranger to 2016’s highs and lows. Here are the 10 most memorable copyright moments of 2016 (in no particular order):

Small Claims Legislation

In 2016, legislators heard our cries – not once, but twice – for a more practical alternative to federal court, where copyright owners can enforce their rights. In July, Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Tom Marino (R-PA) introduced the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2016, a bill which proposes a voluntary court for copyright claims of $30,000 or less that copyright owners could use as an alternative to costly litigation in federal court. More recently, last month, Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA) and Lamar Smith (R-TX) introduced the Fairness for American Small Creators Act, a bill that would also create a voluntary small claims tribunal within the Copyright Office. A real 2-for-1 special.

Google Books Case

Remember when I said copyright was no stranger to 2016’s highs and lows? Well, meet “low.” The notorious Google Books case dealt a major blow to copyright and the creative community in 2016. For those unfamiliar with the case, it involved decade-long dispute between the Authors Guild and Google, regarding Google’s mass digitization of books for its Google Books platform. The Copyright Alliance submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court arguing that the previous decision in this case was an incorrect and inconsistent with the law. But when the Supreme Court decided not to hear the case – missing a golden opportunity to provide crucial guidance as to how the fair use doctrine should apply to functional uses made possible by new technologies – Google ultimately prevailed. That one hurt.

Librarian of Congress & Register of Copyrights

If you think copyright is boring and uneventful, think again. In the last few months of 2016, what transpired between the Librarian of Congress and the Register of Copyrights and Congress could give General Hospital a run for its money when it comes to intrigue and backstabbing. Last September, Dr. Carla Hayden was appointed as the new Librarian of Congress, making history as the first woman and African American to hold the position. A mere month later, one of her first major moves as Librarian was to remove then-Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante under the guise of a promotion. Never before has a Register of Copyrights been removed from his or her post by a Librarian. Register Pallante was strongly supported by copyright owners of all type and size as well as by the Office’s Committees of Jurisdiction, the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. So not surprisingly, her abrupt removal rocked the copyright community and was met with widespread objections and outrage. And if you think that’s scandalous, how about this: in December, the Librarian of Congress decided to use Survey Monkey – yes, that Survey Monkey – to select the next Register. If that wasn’t enough, the Librarian chose this route over the very clear objections of both the House and Senate Judiciary Committee leadership (see below). This is not the best way to make friends and influence people – especially when one of those people has moved to the Committee that controls your budget.

Copyright Reform Proposal

In December, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. released a proposal on Copyright Office reform. In it, they propose (1) giving the Copyright Office autonomy over things like budget, staffing and technology, (2) that the next Register of Copyrights and all future Registers be selected through a nomination and consent process (in other words, not through survey monkey), (3) that the IT modernization plan proposed by the Copyright Office move forward, and (4) that a small claims court exist within the Copyright Office.


For years, file-sharing was the biggest threat to the music industry – think Napster circa 1999 (not to be confused with the new Napster). But now, there’s a new pirate on the high seas: stream-ripping. The 2016 Music Consumer Insight Report published by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) found that nearly half of millennials age 16 – 24 engage in stream-ripping from popular platforms like YouTube, calling the pirating practice “the fastest-growing form of infringement.” In September, the RIAA filed a lawsuit against the most popular stream ripping site, “Youtube-mp3.”

Embedded Software Study

On December 15, the Copyright Office completed its year-long Software Embedded Consumer Products Study. The purpose of the study was to evaluate the adequacy of current copyright law in light of the rapid increase in software-enabled consumer products available in the marketplace. The Office released the Software-Enabled Consumer Products report, which looked specifically at issues concerning Resale, Repair and Tinkering, Security Research, Interoperability, and Licensing of Embedded Software. And what did they find? In short: the law is fine as is.

DOJ Review of ASCAP and BMI Consent Decree

Back in 2014, the Department of Justice began review of ASCAP’s and BMI’s consent decrees, which were put in place in 1941 to promote competition among the Performing Rights Organizations. The last time these decrees were updated was in 2001 and 1994, respectively. In August, the DOJ announced its decision not to modify the consent decrees, and in addition, that proper interpretation of the decrees require ASCAP and BMI to provide “100-percent licensing.” The following month though, BMI’s rate court judge rejected this interpretation, ruling instead that “the consent decree neither bars fractional licensing nor requires [100-percent] licensing.” The DOJ filed a notice of appeal with the Second Circuit to challenge this ruling.

Copyright Alliance Website

In October, the Copyright Alliance unveiled its new website. Our goal was to modernize the site, make it display better on smartphones, tablets and other devices, and to recognize our individual creator members and members of the public who might have questions about copyright. We wanted to develop a one-stop-shop where anyone can come to find the information about copyright they’re searching for. For example, Copyright Alliance members who want to obtain a copy of the latest copyright bill, government report or information about an upcoming congressional hearing, can find that information on our Government Reports, Copyright Legislation and Congressional Hearings pages. Certainly, much of this information can be found across various industry websites; but now instead of going to several sites to get your copyright questions answered, you can visit just one – the Copyright Alliance.

Open Letter Campaign

The Copyright Alliance partnered with CreativeFuture to send an open letter urging the 2016 Presidential and Congressional Candidates to support copyright as a foundation for both creativity and free expression. The campaign was wildly successful, receiving more than 35,000 signatures from people all across the country, who appreciate copyright law and what it provides and affirmed the complementary relationship between a strong copyright system, free expression, creativity, innovation, and technology.

512 Study and Roundtables 

On December 31, 2015, the Copyright Office decided to ring in the new year by kicking off its study of DMCA section 512 – the “notice-and-takedown” provision. Through this study, the Office hopes to determine whether the notice and takedown procedure functions the way it was intended to and how it can be improved. The Copyright Alliance participated in the study on the by submitting written comments, and speaking at public roundtables in New York and San Francisco. On behalf of our members, we explained that although the notice and takedown process was intended to balance the interests of creators and internet services providers (ISPs), it doesn’t do enough to help creators – especially individual creators – combat digital piracy.

photo credit: elinedesignservices/iStock/thinkstock

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