At a Copyright Clearance Center panel held December 12 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., Maria Pallante, the register of copyrights, expressed support for the broad strokes of two copyright bills now before Congress—the Senate’s PROTECT IP bill and the recently introduced companion bill in the House, SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act). “Copyright is a tremendous factor in our economy,” Pallante told moderator Chris Kenneally. “So when Congress sits down and tries to craft 21st-century copyright, antipiracy provisions are a huge part of that. I actually think the House and Senate have done a tremendous job of being forward-thinking enough so that they stay ahead of the problem. The last thing we want to do is legislate from behind the problem.”

Pallante, who took over from Marybeth Peters this year as the 12th register of copyrights in U.S. history, made her comments as part of a panel entitled “Copyright & Commerce: Orphan Works & Fair Use in a Digital Age.” Her take on the bills comes as lobbying for the legislation (the entertainment industry, including the AAP) and against (technology firms, public advocacy and free speech groups) heats up.

“When [Congress] sits down and they say, look, the attorney general really needs to have 21st-century tools, unfortunately, that may include blocking Web sites at times,” Pallante said. “We don’t want the search engine sending you to the site that’s selling movies illegally. We want them to send you to the good faith store where you can buy it or license it lawfully. We want the ISPs to play a role.... We want the advertising networks to not make money in the wrong way, meaning they should be making money from the lawful uses and not the illegal uses.”

Pallante’s comments about the recent legislative efforts came in the closing minutes of a discussion that included orphan works—a subject listed among 17 issues and priorities cited in a recent paper outlining the Copyright Office’s “priorities and special projects” for the next two years—and the subject of a failed congressional reform effort in 2008. The orphan works issue has risen again in light of the failed Google Book Settlement (which the Copyright Office criticized) and a recent lawsuit filed by the Authors Guild against a collective of research libraries over the HathiTrust book-scanning initiative.

On the issue of orphan works, Victor Perlman, general counsel, American Society of Media Photographers, expressed doubt that a new orphan works bill would make it through Congress any time soon—and he pointed to the HathiTrust actions as one reason why. Perlman told Kenneally that “the underlying concept” of orphan works legislation—that protection is triggered after a user makes a “diligent search” for a copyright owner—has been “damaged by the recent actions in the HathiTrust situation.” In October, HathiTrust stopped the release of 144 works it proposed were orphans, citing flaws in its process, after the Authors Guild was able to identify a rights holder for at least one of the works.

In her remarks, however, Pallante suggested congressional changes to the copyright law were almost certainly in the offing—whether on orphan works or through bills like SOPA. “Congress has been revising copyright law in this country since 1790,” she said. “That’s what they do. And this is not by any means the end of it.”