• Clement S. Sealy, Jr.

Should the Copyright Office Be a Separate Entity?

The US Senate is considering a bill that would make the Register of Copyrights a presidential appointee.  A version of this bill has passed the house unanimously a couple years ago. The story is that it was a historical accident that the Copyright Office is in the Library of Congress.

Nevertheless the Librarian of Congress appoints the Register of Copyrights.  This was fine for many years as libraries and copyright holders were generally in agreement on scope of an authors copyright protections.

It all changed in the age of internet as library organizations became increasing hostile to copyright protections. Organizations like the American Library Association or Library Copyright Alliance began to file Amicus briefs (legal documents filed in appellate court cases by non-litigants with a strong interest in the subject matter) opposing copyright holders in cases like Viacom v. YouTube or BMG v. Cox.

Since DMCA legislation was passed it has been a free for all for copyright infringement. DMCA works like this: The website that publishes the blog (such as Wordpress) can't be sued thanks to the DMCA protections. It is legally their website, but they have no control over the uploaded content, obviously. This is why the legislators created a safe harbor. Youtube previously was liable for each and every infringing clip posted to their website.

The DMCA protects online service providers, if they follow specified procedures, against liability for copyright infringement with respect to user-provided content. This protects online service providers, rather than copyright holders. DMCA does nothing to protect the content provider from a lawsuit, even after the content is taken down. When the person making the post is a clearly independent entity from the service provider, many copyright owners forego making a take down request and go straight to sending a cease and desist directly to the person that made the post. Hear comes the lawsuit, since the target of the lawsuit is fully blamable for the infringement.

During the creation and the processing of the DMCA legislation not once was the Register of Copyrights or copyright office was consulted on the copyright laws. When current librarian Dr. Hayden forced the last Register of Copyrights to resign by restructuring her job to mainly cover retail development in the Library of Congress gift shop.  

This is were the discrepancies come to pass. Being a part of the Library Of Congress the Copyright office is just considers librarians who log and file and store copyrights. It is imperative that the Register of Copyrights and the Copyright Office be a separate entity from the Library of Congress in order to functioning to protect the laws and rights of the copyright holders.

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