Time is Now to Modernize the Copyright Office

Michi Iljazi

March 30, 2015

The Library of Congress, which houses the the U.S. Copyright Office

This article originally appeared in The Hill on March 26, 2015

The House Judiciary Committee has spent more than two years reviewing copyright laws in an effort to determine if copyright is “working” in the digital age. The marketplace would suggest that it is. Consumers have more high quality content to choose from than ever before.  But, taxpayers need to be assured that the money they send to Washington is using the most up-to-date technology to ensure that copyrights laws are enforced and used properly.  Protecting copyrights has a ripple effect through the economy and when the economy grows, taxpayers win.

While the marketplace for copyrighted works is innovating, investing and creating at a blistering pace, the government agency tasked with serving the market, the United States Copyright Office, is struggling to keep up. Indeed, the agency still employs a paper-based record-keeping system. But the industry it serves is increasingly digital. The question isn’t whether the Copyright Office should be fixed, it is how the US Copyright Office can make needed changes to be fully capable of dealing with the creative forces that are driving today’s knowledge based economy.

The problem is that the Copyright Office hasn’t been revamped or reformatted since the 1970’s, which is not only unacceptable but also threatens to harm innovation and commerce.

Fixing the Copyright Office may not be a herculean task, but just a case of updating their IT systems and optimizing the technology used by the agency. It’s the year 2015, it’s time for Congress to enable the office to utilize a digitized system for record keeping so that willing buyers and sellers can find each other, thereby facilitating marketplace transactions and incentivizing more creativity, innovation and jobs.

Another fix to consider is giving the Copyright Office greater independence from the Library of Congress, where it currently resides. This arrangement may have outlived its usefulness. Indeed, copyright is not a full-time job for the Librarian of Congress, but just one issue in a broader portfolio. And the mission of a library is to make creative works available at no cost. That mission is inconsistent with the interests of rights holders, who also want their works distributed widely, but through the marketplace, not for free.

The problems the agency faces are not only curable, but more importantly, are common sense solutions. These changes could not only optimize the technological capabilities the Copyright Office; but also provide the office the appropriate level of independence to better serve this dynamic marketplace.

The economic impact of the copyright industries translates to trillions of dollars for the United States. According to a 2014 report by the International Intellectual Property Alliance, copyright contributed more than $1.1 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2013. The US Copyright Office is key to ensuring that this creativity, investment and innovation is not only encouraged, but also managed responsibly so that current and future creators can be assured that they’re ideas and contributions will be protected. Congress has had more than enough hearings and detailed discussion with all the relevant stakeholders, it’s time for policymakers to act and modernize the US Copyright Office.  Consumers and taxpayers deserve nothing less.