Copyright Creators and Users Deserve a 21st Century Copyright Office

This Friday, the University of Baltimore Law School will hold an all-day event titled Copyright Realignment for the Twenty-First Century and I am pleased to be participating in a panel that will focus on modernizing the Copyright Office. There are few issues that seem to galvanize and unify the copyright community more than modernizing the Copyright Office.

Few government offices are more important to the growth of creativity and commercial activity in our nation than the U.S. Copyright Office. The Copyright Office is responsible for administering all matters relating to copyright, including the registration of creators’ works and the recordation of documents pertaining to those works. The ability of creators and small and large businesses to promptly register and record their copyright interests with the Office, and of the public to obtain copyright information that enables them to license copyrighted works creates new industries and spurs the economy, which in turn assists our global competitiveness and technological leadership.

Copyright owners and users alike understand that despite the critical nature of the services provided by the Office, the Office has failed to keep pace with technology and the marketplace. Many of these deficiencies are the result of many years of budgetary neglect and structural deficits that have made it impossible for the Office to keep pace.

If you look deeper into these problems, it becomes evident that many of the challenges confronted by the Office can be traced back to the fact that the Copyright Office is within and under the “direction and supervision” of the Library of Congress. As a department of the Library, the Office is obligated to use the Library’s Information Technology (IT) systems. The Copyright Office does not have its own IT infrastructure; it uses the network, servers, telecommunications, security and all other IT operations controlled and managed by the Library of Congress. This is a significant problem that needs to change going forward.

The Library’s information technology systems are antiquated. But more importantly they are also incompatible and impractical with the Office’s underlying objectives and mission. The Library IT system is meant to service a library and its associated functions, not an organization like the Copyright Office, which has a very different mission from the Library and which is expected to provide services that affect the legal rights and economic interests of creators, owners, users and others who rely on the Copyright Act for their economic and creative well-being. These are inherent, fundamental differences between the Library and the Copyright Office and nothing will change that — not even the appointment of a new Librarian of Congress.

Thankfully the Copyright Office’s seems to be moving in the right direction with its recently released IT Plan that is both forward-thinking and pragmatic. To the extent we have concerns with the Plan these concerns are not with the direction of the Office’s IT Plan, but rather how fast they are moving in that direction. While we appreciate the complexities and understand how long a project like this takes to complete, and the importance of building a new system correctly the first time, we also would like to see the project’s timeline shortened and begin earlier to the extent it is possible. The sooner new or improved systems can be deployed by the Copyright Office, the sooner users of the Office’s services—creators, members of the public, and Congress—can reap the benefits of IT modernization and we can get closer to a 21st Century Copyright Office.

photo credit: maxkabakov/iStock/thinkstock

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