House Introduces Bill Moving Toward USCO Modernization

Photo by maxkabakov

Against the drama of day-to-day Washington—and I’m already exhausted—Rep.  Goodlatte, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill that most people won’t notice except the copyright watchers. Unlike certain congressional action making the headlines this week, H.R. 1695 represents years of testimony, proposals, and discussion and can claim 29, bi-partisan cosponsors.

The bill proposes to make the Register of Copyrights an appointee of the Executive with the advice and consent of the Senate, a move that would place the Copyright Office into a more clearly and more appropriately defined context given the functions it actually performs—and has performed for more than a century. The bill enjoys broad support from many parties, perhaps because it is the manifestation of a multi-year discussion; and the Copyright Alliance has recommended that the Librarian of Congress pause in her search for a new Register while the legislative process moves forward.

As I’ve explained in previous posts, the organizational placement of the USCO under the ambit of the LOC is antiquated, and it would be just as antiquated no matter who occupies the White House or controls Congress. Regardless of what some critics have claimed, it really is a coincidence of history that the Register’s initially-clerical role evolved out of changes at the Library that began under President Lincoln. Because the USCO has long been the nation’s agency of authority on copyright law—which is estimated to support over $1 trillion of GDP—it simply makes sense that the Office function as a separate agency from the Library, and with the Register appointed in the same manner as the Librarian.

When Dr. Carla Hayden was first nominated to the position of Librarian, many copyright skeptics cheered, seeing her as an ideological ally.  If anything, this only emphasizes the need for this long-contemplated split between the two agencies. The LOC and the USCO have evolved to perform two distinct functions that require leaders with two distinct types of experience and expertise. This organizational change is simply common sense.  Moreover, in a time of so much stress-inducing upheaval in Washington, this is an important proposal that deserves bi-partisan and general public support.

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