Could the Copyright Office become an independent agency with rulemaking power? Congress is examining all phases of copyright law, as well as the functioning of the Copyright Office. In connection with that review, the Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante (the head of the Copyright Office) sent a letter to John Conyers, the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, explaining her views on this topic. The letter was sent at the request of the ranking member, made at a recent hearing reviewing the functioning of the Office. In the letter, the Register suggests that the agency be made into an independent agency, like the FCC, to overcome constitutional issues about its powers and to allow it to act as an expert agency to more quickly respond to issues that arise under the copyright laws.

So what are the issues that this proposal raises? The constitutional issue that is mentioned in the letter is similar to the issue that faced the Copyright Royalty Board a few years ago, where a Court of Appeals decision concluded that the Copyright Royalty Judges were not constitutionally appointed under the Appointments Clause of the US Constitution. We wrote about the arguments in that case here. While the specific issue addressed in the CRB case, about the Judges being subject to the supervision of the head of a government agency, do not seem to arise in the appointment and supervision of the Register, another aspect of the Appointments Clause has raised from time to time, asking whether the Librarian of Congress, who oversees both the CRB and the Copyright Office, is truly the head of a department of the executive branch of government. In a government organization chart, the Library technically reports to Congress, not the President, and thus the arguments are that the Library is not a true executive agency (though the President does appoint the Librarian of Congress). While these issues generally have been resolved in favor of the Copyright Office, the fact that they have come up, and never been resolved by the Supreme Court, suggests the constitutional issues which the letter addresses. While this may be very theoretical there are more practical issues that would arise from an independent Copyright Office as well.
Continue Reading Copyright Office Calls for Greater Independence – What Would that Mean?

The Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante, has made a series of speeches about the need to modernize Copyright, including offering testimony before Congress on the matter.  Her comments are but one sign that modernizing the Copyright Act has become the new catch-phrase in Washington. As the Courts have over the last few months wrestled with a host of copyright issues principally arising from digital media, boundaries that had carefully been set up by established copyright principles have been blurred – like the distinctions between a performance and a reproduction, or a public performance and one that is not.  These are distinctions that can have great importance as to who must be paid or whether any payment at all is due under current copyright laws – as in the Aereo case about which we wrote here. The call to modernize the Act is one looking for a copyright act that fits the realities of the 21st century. 

In recent months, Aereo is but one of many cases where the Courts have struggled with how to apply laws that were developed for the analog media, where boundaries are relatively clear, to the new digital world, where many copyright concepts don’t clearly fit reality. We’ve seen a number of cases interpreting the DMCA safe harbor provisions for user-generated content – including the NY State case about which we wrote here deciding Internet service providers were not excused from liability where pre-1972 sound recordings were included in user-generated content, as well as much more sweeping decisions upholding the protections of the safe harbor in broader applications, including protections extended to YouTube in its long-running dispute with Viacom. We’ve seen a decision determining that there is no right to resell digital copies – finding that the first sale doctrine (that says that consumers can resell physical goods that they buy without compensating the original creator) does not apply to digital goods. And outside the litigation sphere, we’ve seen innumerable stories about rights and royalties – from questions about Internet radio royalties like those that may apply to the new Apple streaming service, to disputes over the rights to video programs taken from one medium (like TV) and used in another (online or otherwise on-demand). 

In a speech last week to the World Creator’s Summit in Washington, DC, Register Pallante revisited the topic of Copyright reform, and laid out many of the issues that she felt needed to be addressed in any comprehensive reform that may occur. The list was long, and is bound to be controversial. She noted that the last comprehensive reform of the Act, in the 1990s leading to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, was 20 years in the making – a delay that can’t occur now given the number of pressing issues. As she noted, the importance of copyright has never been greater to the average person. That, to me is very clear, as digital media has put so many more people in a position to be involved in copyright issues, as doing everything from creating a Facebook or Pinterest page to a YouTube video, or accessing a file on BitTorrent or any other sharing site, can immediately immerse an individual in a copyright dispute with consequences far greater than the improper use of a copy machine or cassette recorder would have had 20 or 30 years ago. So what does she propose to examine?


Continue Reading Register of Copyrights Maria Pallente Calls for Comprehensive Copyright Reform to Adapt to the Digital World – What Is Being Proposed?