Orphan works, preservation for libraries, mass digitization, and fighting digital piracy are among the priorities set by the Register of Copyrights Maria A. Pallante this week in a paper outlining the U.S. Copyyright Office's "priorities and special projects" for the next two years. In all, the paper articulates 17 priorities in the areas of copyright policy and administrative practice, and 10 "new projects" designed to "improve the quality and efficiency" of the U.S. Copyright Office’s services in the 21st century. The paper also summarizes the state of global policy, including U.S. trade negotiations, anti-piracy efforts and international discussions of exceptions and limitations.

In addition to the broader, thornier issues, many of which require acts of Congress to address, Pallante notes that the "administrative practice" of the Copyright Office will also be particularly active during the next two years, including new rulemaking for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's anti-circumvention clause, as well as "regulatory issues" affecting the "copyrightability and registration" of web sites and other forms of digital authorship.

"Copyright law is the engine of free expression and a major building block in the world economy." Pallante writes. "As copyright issues have become more ubiquitous, the Office has had to find innovative ways to assist users of copyrighted works and to provide education about core copyright principles."

Indeed the copyright landscape has perhaps never been more complicated, following the collapse of the Google Book Settlement, lawsuits by publishers and authors against libraries, and a range of court rulings affecting, among other things, first sale doctrine. In fact, the Copyright Office appears eager to help move some of these issues from federal court dockets, and has commissioned a study, at the request of Congress, regarding "alternative means of resolving copyright infringement claims" when claims are likely to involve "limited" monetary relief.

"As the ease of infringement has risen, so too has the cost of federal litigation," Pallante notes. "Copyright law affords a bundle of exclusive rights to authors," she adds, "however, these rights are meaningless if they cannot be enforced." Initial public comments on the study are due January 16, 2012.

The Copyright Office has also undertaken "a preliminary analysis" of mass book digitization, the paper notes. The analysis, "in connection with the U.S. Statements of Interest filed in the Google Book Search litigation," as well as testimony provided by former Register Marybeth Peters in the House of Representatives in 2009, will address "the current landscape and marketplace; possible methods to facilitate digitization projects, including voluntary, extended, and statutory collective licensing; the implications for prior studies and proposals to address orphan works and section 108 library and archive exceptions in the digital age. In September 2009, Peters slammed the Google Book Settlement, saying it encroached on Congress's exclusive turf.

At the core of the Google settlement, of course, is the orphan works issue, also addressed in the paper. In 2006, the Copyright Office delivered a study to Congress that acknowledged that "millions of works that could be available to the public are barred from use because of the inability to find rightsholders." Orphan works legislation failed to pass in the 109th Congress, howeverf, but the Copyright Office, Pallante writes, "will continue to provide analysis and support to Congress on this important issue."

With the work of libraries now under fire in federal court, the Copyright Office also said it will also address preservation exemptions for libraries. The paper references the 2008 Section 108 Report, an independent study that, Pallante bluntly noted, "concluded that Section 108 fails to meet the needs of libraries and archives (and other entities, such as museums) dealing with born-digital works, digital preservation and conversion issues, as well as numerous types of uses and lending of works by patrons of these institutions." Because many of the issues are "critical" for libraries, the paper say, the Copyright Office will "formulate a discussion document and preliminary recommendations on these issues" in 2012.

In a statement, the non-profit Copyright Clearance Center reacted by praising Pallante's objectives. "Register Pallante has hit the ground running in her new role as head of the Copyright Office," said Tracey Armstrong, CCC's president and CEO. "We support this agenda and encourage the U.S. Congress to consider the issues with urgency as recommendations are created." Pallante took the helm of the Copyright Office in 2011 from Marybeth Peters, who joined the CCC board in February of this year.