A bill that would empower Donald Trump to appoint the next Register of Copyrights easily passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday, and is headed to the Senate. The final vote was 378-48.
The vote came just a month after the bill, the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act, (H.R. 1695) was first introduced on March 23. The bill would block Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden from appointing the next Register of Copyrights and instead transfer the authority to appoint the Register to the President, with Senate confirmation.
Supporters of the bill say it is needed to help "modernize" the Copyright Office, and to and make it more accountable to Congress. Critics, however, say the bill does nothing to modernize the Copyright Office, and instead punts those issues to future legislation, while giving the executive branch more power over the Copyright Office, at the behest of the entertainment industries, and over the objections of library, tech, and public advocacy groups.
The bill comes roughly six months after Hayden ousted Maria Pallante from her post as Register of Copyrights last October, a move that outraged many in the entertainment industry, and in Congress, who had counted Pallante as a close ally.
In January, Pallante was named President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers. Currently, Karyn Temple Claggett is leading the Copyright Office on an interim basis.
In a statement, House Judiciary Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Conyers praised passage of the bill.
“The Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act is one product of the House Judiciary Committee’s multi-year comprehensive review of our copyright laws," the statement reads. “While this legislation represents an important first step in the Committee’s efforts to update our nation’s copyright laws, we remain committed to working with all members and stakeholders to take additional steps to ensure the U.S Copyright Office is modernized so that it functions efficiently and effectively for all Americans.”
In a statement, the Association of American Publishers, also praised the bill. "AAP supports the hundreds of lawmakers who today stated unequivocally that the Register should be appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate," the statement reads, "and we agree with enactment of a ten year term that is common place in the legislative branch and especially important for a legal expert who by statute provides impartial, nuanced advice to Congress."
Support also came from the Authors Guild. In a statement, executive director Mary Rasenberger noted that the bill "provides fundamental changes to the Register-selection process necessary to secure the Office’s long-term effectiveness." Rasenberger went on to call the measure "a long overdue effort to begin bringing the U.S. Copyright Office out of the 19th century and into the 21st by giving copyright law and individual creators the place in the federal government they deserve."
In a statement, American Library Association officials said they would continue to speak out against the bill as it moves to the next stage.
"As this bill moves to the Senate, ALA urges all Senators to take special note of what the bill isn’t," said ALA president-elect Jim Neal. "Despite the arguments of its proponents, it isn’t related to modernization of the Copyright Office, which it will impede. It isn’t about protecting or advancing the long-term interests of all Copyright Office stakeholders, just its most powerful ones. And, by oddly outsourcing appointment of the Legislative Branch’s own copyright advisor to the Executive Branch, it isn’t the way for Congress to get the nonpoliticized counsel about fairly balanced copyright law on which the economy and public interest depend."
In its statement, the Electronic Frontier Foundation said it was "gearing up" to fight the measure in the Senate. "We’re disappointed that so many in Congress chose to put the interests of powerful media and entertainment industries above those of the public as a whole, but the fight isn’t over yet."
The bill has support in the Senate, but at press time it was unclear how quickly it could be taken up by leadership there.
This story has been updated to include reaction to the bill's passage.