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April 27 2017

Copyright Office Reform Bill Passes House

by Patrice L. Onwuka

Yesterday, was World IP Day, a day to recognize the rights that artists, authors, photographers, designers, inventors, and other creators rely on that protect and encourage their innovation and creativity. Just think about your go-to romantic comedy on a rainy day, the thrillers you reach for before a long flight, or your fist-pumping workout play list. Intellectual property rights protect the creators of that content.

IP system in the U.S. also got a boost yesterday by Congress. The House of Representatives voted overwhelming to pass legislation to reform the U.S. Copyright Office by making the Register a presidential appointee – an important step in the process to modernize the outdated office. The bill, which passed 378 to 48, now goes to the Senate.

As we reported, the House recently introduced a bill to make the Register of Copyrights, or the director of the Copyright Office, a Presidentially-nominated, Senate-confirmed position. Currently the Register is appointed by the Librarian of Congress for a ten-year appointment.

To demonstrate the bipartisan support for this measure Ars Technica reports on comments by members:

Proponents who spoke on the House floor today, including Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), called it a "commonsense measure" that was just the first part of modernizing the office. They noted broad support by unions like the AFL-CIO and the Screen Actors Guild, as well as entertainment and software companies and some conservative political groups.

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), said the bill was part of more than four years of discussions about modernizing the office. "We want a Copyright Office that's responsible to all stakeholders in the ecosystem," he said. "Core copyright businesses annually contribute more than $1.2 trillion to our nation's economy. These businesses are also tremendous job creators, creating more than 5 million workers."

IWF submitted testimony for the record to Congress earlier this year. We underscored that after 120 years under the Library of Congress, it’s time for that arrangement to end because the Copyright Office remains neglected, outdated, and unable to keep up with the changing demands of the digitally-powered 21st century. If this bill passers, the modernization plans underway will become a priority.

Interestingly, the opponents of the effort to move appointment and oversight from the Library of Congress to the President claim this is about the race and gender of the current Librarian of Congress, but a coalition of black artists calls out this smear campaign for what it is. They noted:

“As artists of color, we find it deeply offensive that opponents of this bill have attempted to recast their anti-creators’ rights goals into a smear campaign against its sponsors and supporters.  They are insinuating that the legislation is about the race and gender of the current Librarian of Congress.  The Act is co-authored by the Dean of the House and the Congressional Black Caucus, Judiciary Ranking Member John Conyers.  It’s also supported by Congressman John Lewis.  Their lifelong and unshakeable commitment to civil rights is a historical fact and should be honored and respected.  Not opportunistically and baselessly questioned just to score a few empty political points.

“We would be the first to speak out against prejudice or bias anywhere – in business, culture, the arts, or politics.  But here, we know these charges are false. The bill has nothing to do with the current Librarian at all – in fact, these reform proposals pre-date her appointment.

We’re pleased to see these reform efforts move forward and hope that the Senate will join their colleagues in making this first step of modernizing the Copyright Office a priority.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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