The Copyright Office is now a part of the Library of Congress, with the Register of Copyrights (the head of the Copyright Office) appointed by the Librarian of Congress. As part of its plans to review the Copyright Act, the House Judiciary Committee asked for comments earlier this year about structural reform of the Copyright Office, including whether the Register of Copyrights should be appointed by the President rather than by the Librarian of Congress (see our article here). In a very straightforward and direct bill, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the Ranking Democratic Member of the Committee have started the process of reform of the Copyright Office by proposing to make the Register a Presidential appointment. These Congressmen, along with the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a statement asking that this bill be moved expeditiously. As the Register position is currently vacant, quick action on the bill may determine how that vacancy is filled (note, as we wrote here, the Librarian of Congress has moved forward with her plans to select a new Register, soliciting public comment on what she should look for in making the appointment of the new Register).
What would this change mean? Certainly, the Register is an influential position that helps shape the direction of US Copyright policy though, as we have written before, the Copyright Office is for the most part not an administrative agency that makes rules governing the substance of Copyright law, but instead it is an agency that administers existing law and recommends changes to Congress. In the past, the Register has taken positions on issues that affect broadcasting, for instance, supporting the imposition of a general public performance right in sound recordings which would make radio stations pay royalties not only to the composers of songs which they now do, but also to the artists who record those songs and the record labels that usually hold the copyrights to the songs (see our post here). Would the policy positions of the Register change if the position was changed to one that the President appointed? Interestingly, both the recording industry and the broadcast industry have issued statements applauding the bill (here and here), possibly concluding that a political appointment is more likely to be a compromise appointment that both parties can live with rather than one who may come from one industry or the other. Some public interest groups, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have argued just the opposite – that making the Register a Presidential appointee will make the job more political and subject to influence by special interests (see their blog post here). We’ll be watching as this process plays out in the near future.
Edited, 3/29/2017 to include reference to EFF position.