In a statement issued late last week, American Library Association president Courtney Young questioned 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. Dubbed the CODE Act (Copyright Office for the Digital Economy), the draft legislation was released on June 4, and pitched as a bid to “modernize” the Copyright Office. But ALA now joins a chorus of Internet and tech businesses questioning the plan, saying it “does little to address significant technology challenges impacting the U.S. Copyright Office.”
Despite questions about the need for an independent federal agency to oversee copyright, however, there is broad agreement, even among critics, that the Copyright Office needs a major update. In her statement, ALA's Young urged Congress to invest in new “digital systems” to record copyright transactions, as well as for new storage facilities for “digitally-born” works.
“The bill’s proposal to make the Copyright Office an independent agency does not address the longstanding problems facing the agency, specifically that the Copyright Office’s information technology systems are woefully inadequate in serving both rightsholders and the public in the digital environment," Young said. "Instead of independent authority, the Copyright Office needs resources—both in the form of funding and technical expertise—to bring it out of the typewriter age."
In recent testimony before Congress, Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante, told lawmakers that the Copyright Office’s current organizational structure is “under strain” due to digital advancements, and shifting public expectations.
The CODE Act proposal has divided stakeholders. Officials at the Association of American Publishers have backed the idea of an independent copyright office, calling it “the critical first step” towards modernizing copyright. The Authors Guild has also issued a statement of support.
But in a statement last week, the Internet Association—a trade industry group that includes Amazon, Facebook, Google, and NetFlix, among others, rejected the idea, saying “wholesale changes to the Copyright Office" should first be made before "determining whether [the Copyright Office] should be spun off as an independent agency.”
Under the CODE Act, the Copyright Office would have its own budget, offices, and an executive director appointed by the president, who 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."