More Autonomy for U.S. Copyright Office?

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A proposal was released December 8, 2016 by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and committee member John Conyers (D-Mich.) targeted towards modernizing the U.S. Copyright system and granting more autonomy to the U.S. Copyright Office. This is expected to be the first of several reforms.

The U.S. Copyright Office is now part of the Library of Congress, in which the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, retains exclusive discretion on who holds position of Register, with no review from lawmakers. Under the new proposal, the Register of Copyrights would become an independent position, with a term limit of ten years. Moreover, the Register would be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

In addition to granting the office more autonomy, the music business could also greatly benefit from the change and importantly, so could artists. The proposal includes a plan to update the Copyright Office IT infrastructure from its outdated technology and also proposes adding several new jobs, including a Chief Economist, a Chief Technologist, and Deputy Register. The plan would also allow copyright owners to sue in a “small claims system.” Copyright law is governed by federal law, limiting suits to federal court, which often discourages independent creators from suing due to the intricacies and expense of the federal court system; a small claims system would likely give artists a more affordable remedy.  According to Billboard, a small claims system would likely set a limit to damages which would be considerably lower than the federal maximum statutory damages of $150,000.

The committee is seeking written public comments on the proposal by January 31, 2017. In a joint statement, Goodlatte and Conyers stated, “These policy proposals are not meant to be the final word on reform in these individual issue areas, but rather a starting point for further discussion by all stakeholders, with the goal of producing legislative text within each issue area.”

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