Public Knowledge Opposes Rushed Legislation on Copyright Office

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Today, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider H.R. 1695, the “Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017.” The bill would take away the power of the Librarian of Congress to appoint the Register of Copyrights, and transfer that power to the President, subject to Senate confirmation. Public Knowledge opposes H.R. 1695 as presently written.

The following can be attributed to Ryan Clough, General Counsel at Public Knowledge:

“We have serious concerns about this legislation, which is being rushed to a committee markup less than a week after it was introduced.

“This bill raises larger questions about the institutional structure of the Copyright Office, but punts all of them to future legislation. For example, it is unclear who will really oversee the Register of Copyrights in practice -- if the Register remains an employee of the Library of Congress, housed within the legislative branch, but appointed directly by the President and removable by him or her at will. This could be a recipe for dysfunction, especially if enacted in isolation from all other proposed reforms.

“More immediately, the bill would likely cause further delay and uncertainty in the already-overdue modernization of the U.S. copyright registration and recordkeeping system. The new Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden, took office last September with a commitment to bring the Library into the digital age, and is already several months into the selection process for a new Register. H.R. 1695 would restart this process in a new presidential administration that, according to the Washington Post, has filled only 21 of 553 ‘key executive branch’ positions requiring Senate confirmation. As a result, it could easily be a year or more before a new Register takes office.

“At a minimum, members of the Judiciary Committee should ask why it is necessary to stop Dr. Hayden from naming anyone as Register in the short-term, while the Committee considers Copyright Office reform for the long-term.”

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