Publishers have applauded a new Congressional proposal to remove the U.S. Copyright Office from the purview of the Library of Congress, and to establish it as its own independent agency. But this week, critics pumped the brakes on the idea, suggesting that a more substantive discussion on copyright reform was needed before considering the move.
Dubbed the CODE Act (Copyright Office for the Digital Economy), the draft legislation was released on June 4 by Representatives Judy Chu and Tom Marino, both senior members on the House Judiciary Committee (which has jurisdiction over the Copyright Office). Establishing the Copyright Office as an independent federal agency, proponents argue, would be a step toward “modernizing” the office for the digital age, and follows a series of recent Congressional hearings among stakeholders, including the current Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante, who told lawmakers that the Copyright Office’s current organizational structure is “under strain” due to digital advancements, and shifting public expectations.
In a statement last week, AAP officials backed the discussion draft, calling it “the critical first step towards crafting legislation to equip the Copyright Office with the tools and authority necessary to realize the full potential of copyright and creativity in the digital age.” The Authors Guild also issued a statement of support.
But if the bill represents a "first step," toward copyright reform, it appears that a very long journey lies ahead. In a statement this week, the Internet Association—a trade industry groups that includes powerhouse companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, NetFlix, among others—suggested that the proposal to move the Copyright Office was putting the cart in front of the horse.
“Wholesale changes to the Copyright Office must first be made before determining whether it should be spun off as an independent agency,” the Internet Association statement reads, adding that “to achieve modernization, the Copyright Office must be reformed to better represent all stakeholders,” including consumers.
Formed in summer, 2012, the Internet Association bills itself as the “the unified voice of the Internet economy.” The association, which is a lobbying group, formally came together after its members showed their unity (and muscle) by successfully working to derail the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), with members participating in a daylong Internet “blackout” in January, 2012.
As an independent agency, the Copyright Office would have its own budget, offices, and and an executive director, appointed by the president, who, under this proposal, would serve a 10-year term. Among its duties, an independent Copyright Office would also advise Congress on copyright issues, as well as the Executive branch and the Judiciary on national and international copyright issues; and it would "conduct studies and programs regarding copyright."