Today is International Women’s Day, and in celebration, we’d like to honor the legacies, and achievements of former women Registers of Copyrights and the current Acting Register of Copyrights of the U.S. Copyright Office, all who were and still are extremely influential in the development and modernization of federal copyright law.
Barbara Ringer: Register of Copyrights (1973-1980), Acting Register (1993-1994)
Barbara Ringer was the first woman appointed as Register of Copyrights in the Copyright Office and served in this role from 1973-1980. She started at the Copyright Office as an examiner in 1949 and eventually served as the Assistant Register of Copyright. During Ringer’s pre-Register years, she worked with former Registers Arthur Fisher and Abraham Kaminstein to revise the Copyright Act of 1909 by writing and drafting legislative materials, Register’s reports, legislation, and committee reports and leading meetings between adverse stakeholders. In drafting the 1976 Act, she also insisted that it be more inclusive of women by incorporating both female and male pronouns.
In 1971, then-Register Abraham Kaminstein announced his retirement, and Ringer applied for the position, but was passed over for a male colleague. She sued the Librarian of Congress on claims that the position had been denied to her 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 basis of sex and race, and in 1973, the District Court of D.C. affirmed the decision. Soon after, Ringer was appointed as the first female Register, where she directed the Copyright Office through the enactment of the 1976 Copyright Act by leading the efforts in drafting and implementing new regulations, practices, and forms for the Office.
Ringer retired from the Copyright Office in 1980, but remained active in drafting and helping to enact three other pieces of legislation: The Automatic Renewal Act of 1992, the Restoration of Protection for Foreign Works as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the U.S.’ ratification of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). TRIPS contained a revised Section 104A of the Copyright Act to restore protection for all WTO member country works and to provide protections for users of restored works, including so-called reliance parties. This law and section survived a Constitutional challenge in the 2012 Supreme Court case Golan v. Holder.
Ringer returned to the Copyright Office in 1992 at the request of the Librarian, Dr. James Billington, to direct the Accord Report, a study conducted on the future of the Office and registration issues. At about the same time, Register Ralph Oman retired and Dr. Billington appointed Ringer as the Acting Register of Copyrights, a role in which she served from 1993-1994. Her talent and passion for copyright law inspired colleagues and protégées alike, and she served as a role model for many, including the next female Register of Copyright, Marybeth Peters.
Marybeth Peters: Register of Copyrights (1994-2010)
Marybeth Peters became the next Register of Copyrights from 1994-2010, holding the distinction as the second-longest serving Register in the history of the Copyright Office. Peters worked as a music examiner while attending law school and subsequently became an Attorney-Advisor on the General Counsel’s staff, Chief of the Information and Reference Division, Chief of the Copyright Examining Division, Acting General Counsel, and Policy Planning Advisor. During her pre-Register years, Peters wrote The General Guide to the Copyright Act of 1976 to educate and train over three hundred Copyright Office employees on the workings of the then-new Copyright Act for which she received the Library of Congress Superior Service award.
As Register, Peters focused on modernizing and adapting the 1976 Act to address the rapid rise of the Internet and the massive scale of online piracy. It was during her tenure that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was enacted, and through the DMCA, the Copyright Office’s role in copyright policy grew as it gained substantive rule-making authority via the triennial rulemaking proceedings relating to exceptions to Section 1201’s prohibition of circumvention of technological measures. Peters also oversaw other pieces of key legislation, including the Uruguay Round Agreements Act, the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
Additionally, the Copyright Royalty and Distribution Reform Act was passed during Peters’ time, which established today’s Copyright Royalty Board, an entity in charge of setting a wide variety of statutory licensing rates for sound recordings and musical works. On the music front, Peters raised concern in a 2005 statement to the Senate Subcommittee on Intellectual Property of the Judiciary Committee over the need to reform section 115 compulsory mechanical licensing and floated the idea of blanket licensing, which is the subject of the Music Modernization Act (MMA), a bill that is currently before Congress.
Maria Pallante: Register of Copyrights (2011-2016)
Maria Pallante became Register of Copyrights in 2011. Before assuming the position of Register, Pallante was the Deputy General Counsel and Associate Register/Director of Policy and International Affairs. Starting in 2013, Pallante urged Congress to begin a comprehensive revision of the Copyright Act by delivering public speeches and testifying in front of the House Judiciary Committee on the topic. But even before Pallante began to push for comprehensive legislative reform, the Copyright Office published a study that identified topics of high priority on which the Office pledged to study and consider over the coming years.
One of the issues the Copyright Office tackled regarded a small claims court for creators, and in 2013, the Office released a policy study on Copyright Small Claims. The momentum for this idea picked up and eventually culminated in a bill (currently before Congress) that would create a small claims court for creators, known as the CASE Act. Another area that the Office studied was federal protection for pre-1972 sound recordings, which led to the release of a policy study in 2011. Now, Congress is considering a bill that would extend digital performance rights to pre-1972 sound recordings, known as the CLASSICS Act.
Pallante also focused on making the Copyright Office a more efficient, forward-looking, and resourceful agency that could deal with a modernized version of copyright law. In 2015 and 2016, the Office published strategy plans and modernization plans for the Copyright Office, which included plans to upgrade the Copyright Office’s IT systems to bring its practices and policies up to date with modern technology. Under Pallante’s leadership the Copyright Office also released the first comprehensive revision of the Copyright Office’s Compendium in more than twenty years.
Karyn A. Temple: Acting Register of Copyrights (2016-present)
Karyn Temple was named Acting Register of Copyrights in 2016 after serving as the Associate Register of Copyrights/Director of Policy and International Affairs at the Copyright Office. In her role as Acting Register, Temple is the first African-American woman to lead the U.S. Copyright Office. She has continued the efforts to modernize, update and educate the public about the Copyright Office and its practices. In March 2017, the Copyright Office launched a blog to provide information on the workings and people of the Office. It also enacted numerous new regulations in 2017, issuing a total of nine rules on matters including rules on group registrations on contributions to periodicals and on supplementary registration. In 2017, it completed another revision of the Compendium that clarified the Office’s registration and deposit requirements, provided information on the Office’s new electronic system for designating agents, and offered guidelines for claims involving useful articles in light of the Supreme Court decision in Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands.
Temple also oversaw the Office’s ongoing efforts to identify, address, and study important copyright issues. In 2016, the Office released its policy study on software-enabled consumer products and in 2017, it released a study on Section 1201 technological protection measures. The Copyright Office is also currently working on studies regarding visual works, Section 512 of the DMCA, IT modernization of the Office, and moral rights of attribution and integrity. Though two years in, Temple has led the Copyright Office to fulfill its role as an administrator of copyright law and as an important voice in copyright policymaking, and with the flurry of activity on copyright legislation she will continue to play an important role in guiding the Copyright Office onward.
Copyright law has come a long way from the first Copyright Act in 1790 and Registers Ringer, Peters, and Pallante and Acting Register Temple have all demonstrated the talent and passion in developing it. As women in powerful leadership positions, they pushed copyright law forward and adapted it to modern day challenges to create lasting legacies that will serve as examples for all future women Registers to come.
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