The Growing List of How the Copyright Office Has Failed Us

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As we’ve been talking about recently, the Copyright Office has a long history of being bad at its job, and misrepresenting the law it’s charged with understanding. Anyone familiar with tech policy already knows about the debacle that is the exemption process under Section 1201, but it doesn’t end there. Aside from its seemingly never-ending quest to accumulate more power by pulling non-copyright issues under its umbrella, the Office pushes wildly expansive interpretations of copyright law--asserting rights that don’t exist, interpreting consumer safeguards so narrowly as to render them useless, preventing consumers from using assistive technologies, creating “solutions” that nobody asked for, and otherwise making bizarre proclamations that completely ignore relevant facts and law. Over and over again, the Copyright Office bends over backwards to align its positions with the lobbying agendas of the big entertainment conglomerates.

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Private Interests Don’t Override the Law—in Music Publishing, Cable Boxes, or Anywhere Else

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Two of the copyright issues Public Knowledge has been working on seem disconnected from each other, but there's a common theme. In both the performance rights organization (PRO) and set-top box issues, policymakers should be clear in their understanding that private contracts can't be used to override other provisions of law. Just as the interests of some industry participants don't override legally-binding consent decrees, neither do they provide a reason for the Federal Communications Commission to ignore its statutory mandate to promote set-top box competition.

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Not the Agency You’re Looking For: The Copyright Office’s Misguided Antitrust Adventure

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The increasing frequency with which the Copyright Office has inserted itself into policy debates raises questions about the scope of its expertise and authority. An illustrative example of how the Office’s opinions can cause problems occurred earlier this year. During the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division inquiry into how performance rights organizations (PROs) ASCAP and BMI license songs with multiple authors where not every author is a member of the PRO (i.e., where either PRO represents only a ‘fraction’ of the ownership stake in the song), a member of Congress sought out the opinion of the Copyright Office, and the Office responded. Although it’s unremarkable for an agency to offer its opinion in response to a lawmaker request, it is remarkable for that agency to reach into unfamiliar areas of law, ignore basic public policy concerns in that area of law, and offer its own unqualified judgment on matters properly within the jurisdiction of another agency.

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Moving Beyond the Cable Box

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Some critics of the Federal Communications Commission's "Unlock the Box" proposal have suggested that the FCC ought to pursue a "no box" approach--that is, some kind of policy (or hands-off approach) that would let customers do away with the set-top box entirely, relying on apps instead, rather than introducing new competition in the set-top box market. The proposal put forward by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, AT&T, and others even calls itself "Ditch the Box."

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