The Impactful Leadership of Women Registers of Copyrights (World IP Day 2023)

The World Intellectual Property Organization is celebrating World IP Day 2023 with the theme Women and IP: Accelerating Innovation and Creativity honoring the pioneering and innovative spirit of women inventors, creators, and entrepreneurs around the world. It is a day of recognizing the women who have paved the way in the scientific and creative fields, but also gauging what other progress can be made to encourage and raise the next generations of Rachel Carsons, Zora Neale Hurston, and Georgia O’Keefes.

Behind a robust creative environment are women leaders who shape and guide the intellectual property right policies that protect and promote these innovative and ground-breaking creativities of women creators. Here are a few of those notable leaders, particularly the former and current Register of Copyrights of the U.S. Copyright Office, who have pioneered and paved the way for a copyright system that encourages the participation of women creators.

Barbara Ringer

When Barbara Ringer was appointed as Register of Copyrights of the U.S. Copyright Office, she was the first woman to hold this position, and her tenure coincided with some of the most critical developments in U.S. copyright law. During her time as Register, she was responsible for overseeing the overhaul of U.S. copyright law that resulted in the 1976 Copyright Act that we know and use today. But Ringer’s legacy is also noteworthy because of the way she set an example and precedent for women to participate and engage meaningfully within the copyright system.

This legacy was evidenced in lesser-known but impactful victories, like when she insisted that the new Copyright Act be more inclusive of women by incorporating both female and male pronouns. She also advocated for part-time work schedules, women’s programs, and a childcare center. But a key moment in Ringer’s legacy was when she campaigned and won her federal lawsuit against the Librarian of Congress, arguing that she had been denied the Register position because she was a woman and because she had advocated for African-American employees who were being discriminated against in the Library of Congress. A federal hearing officer found that Ringer had indeed been discriminated against on the bases of sex and race, and in 1973, the District Court of D.C. affirmed the decision. Ringer’s determination and persistence paved the way for women to become part of the copyright system, and she served as a role model for future Registers, including mentoring the next female Register of Copyrights, Marybeth Peters.

Marybeth Peters

Marybeth Peters became the next woman Register of Copyrights of the U.S. Copyright Office in  1994, serving until 2010 and holding the distinction as the longest serving Register in modern times. As Register, her copyright legacy focused on modernizing and adapting the 1976 Act in the digital age. This included overseeing the enactment of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the Copyright Office’s new rule-making authority via the triennial rulemaking proceedings relating to exceptions to Section 1201’s prohibition of circumvention of technological measures.

Peters acknowledged that the path to becoming Register hadn’t always been easy for her, noting that early on in her career there weren’t many women lawyers in the field. But Peters credited the mentorship of Barbara Ringer and the encouragement of many others as the biggest contributions and motivations leading to her success, securing her legacy as a Register intent on empowering and encouraging others, especially women, in the copyright law space. She stated:

“I recognized that I had been very lucky in the jobs that I’ve had. I’ve been very lucky in having people who believed in me and who helped me along the way…I thought that if I was lucky enough to be in a position that I could help anybody, I needed to do that…I’ve done it more with young women lawyers, but I don’t limit it to women. I will do it to anybody who wants to get ahead, but especially women because I did struggle…But I remember when I first became Register. I was a lot younger…[People] were really expecting a man…I really do believe that the federal government and other agencies are recognizing the value that women bring to jobs…”

Maria Pallante

Maria Pallante became Register of Copyrights in 2011 and served for five years. During her tenure as Register, Pallante urged Congress to begin a comprehensive revision of the Copyright Act. Under her leadership, Pallante oversaw modernization efforts and the first comprehensive revision of the Copyright Office’s Compendium in more than twenty years.

Recounting the influences in her life that led her to the top U.S. copyright position, Pallante credited her undergraduate education at a women-founded college for encouraging her to pursue politics and leadership, which lead her to attend law school where she discovered a passion for copyright law. As current President and CEO of the American Association of Publishers, Pallante continues to champion the importance of women in copyright and the publishing industries, specifically working to identify more female candidates for AAP’s board. When asked what advice she would give to women, Pallante stated:

“Learn to listen to yourself, seek out women and men you think you can learn from, don’t be afraid to ask for advice, and don’t wait for a perfect time to seek, accept, or create a promotional opportunity or project.  There is no perfect time.   If you are a manager, I would say be especially sensitive to how women contribute to meetings and objectives, recognizing that female styles are sometimes understated.”

Karyn A. Temple

Karyn Temple was named Register of Copyrights in 2019, after serving as Acting Register since 2016, and was the first African-American woman to lead the U.S. Copyright Office. She helped modernize, update and educate the public about the Copyright Office and its registration practices. Under Temple’s tenure, the Office completed another revision of the Compendium and released its policy study on software-enabled consumer products and a study on Section 1201 technological protection measures.

The Office’s work on modernization and studies on certain copyright issues during Temple’s tenure as Register of Copyrights supports her belief that governments must work with creators to improve the copyright structures, remove formal barriers, and provide resources for creators to focus on their art. Temple has said that fostering a conducive environment that encourages creativities empowers women to join the creative industries and take control of their own intellectual property. Highlighting the importance of the participation of women in the creative industries, Temple stated:

“[It is important to] creat[e] a space where women—their voice can be uniquely heard. Because they might tell stories in a way that might be different than men might tell stories, or different stories that may not have been told but for women telling them.”

In her current position as Senior Executive Vice President and Global General Counsel for the Motion Picture Association, Temple continues to speak out and support ways the creative community can encourage diverse participation. In fact, she will be moderating the Copyright Alliance’s panel titled Women Trailblazers Creating Success Through Copyright, discussing how copyright has helped women to advance their careers and protect and distribute their and others’ creative works.

Shira Perlmutter

Shira Perlmutter is the current Register of Copyrights and Director of the U.S. Copyright Office. She was appointed to the position in late 2020 and has overseen the Office’s numerous studies and engagements on a wide variety of copyright issues including studies and engagements on standard technical measures, press publishers’ ancillary rights, and artificial intelligence.

Under Register Perlmutter’s leadership and in line with the Office’s vision for “copyright for all” under its four-year strategic plan, the Office published a report in June 2022 titled Women in the Copyright System: An Analysis of Women Authors in Copyright Registrations from 1978 to 2020, which examined copyright registration data to evaluate the role and scope of participation in the creative and copyright industry of women authors. The report revealed that although women have been participating more in registering their works over time, they still make up a smaller share of copyright registrants. Register Perlmutter stated that while the data is encouraging,

”[a]t the same time, there is work to be done in reaching gender parity in most areas. As part of the Office’s commitment to ‘copyright for all,’ we look forward to continuing to collaborate with colleagues and stakeholders to develop programs responsive to this research, and further empower women to benefit from their creativity.”


Copyright law has come a long way under the incredible leadership and guidance of these women Register of Copyrights who have studied, explored, implemented, challenged, and enacted policies, regulations, structures, and systems while they led the U.S. Copyright Office. Though each Register has approached increasing the participation of women in the copyright law system in different ways, their conduct and initiatives during their respective tenure as Register have cohesively built on each other to ensure the copyright law system continues to encourage and lift up the voices of women storytellers.  

If you aren’t already a member of the Copyright Alliance, you can join today by completing our Individual Creator Members membership form! Members gain access to monthly newsletters, educational webinars, and so much more — all for free!

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