Think tank: Take Copyright Office out of Library of Congress

The conservative Hudson Institute is the latest group to call for the Copyright Office to cut ties with the Library of Congress, pictured here. (m01229/Flickr)

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The conservative Hudson Institute Tuesday added its voice to a chorus of discontent over the status of the government agency that registers copyrights for songs, movies, books and other creative works.

In a report, the think tank called for lawmakers to remove the Copyright Office from the Library of Congress — where it is one of a mere handful of agencies in the legislative branch. The report outlines constitutional arguments for a restructuring while underscoring ongoing problems with the office’s dated information technology systems as another driver.

The Copyright Office currently falls under the umbrella of the Library of Congress, upon which it must depend for its IT — as well as for human resources, budget requests and other functions.

Copyright employees and the private sector alike have complained about the office’s archaic systems — some of which are still paper based — as noted in a Government Accountability Office report from earlier this year. The concerns came to a head in August when the Copyright Office’s online registration system went offline for more than a week following a scheduled power outage at a Library of Congress facility.

“The Library built IT systems that are general purpose, not designed for the unique needs of the Copyright Office. But that Cinderella status is exactly what is wrong with the current structure,” argues the report, which was written by former U.S. Register of Copyrights Ralph Oman, and Steven Tepp, the president and founder of Sentinel Worldwide, a consultancy that specializes in intellectual property.

They added, “The question is not whether the Copyright Office should modernize — it must.”

Rather, the authors wrote, the question is what to do with the office. They highlight three options that they say can pass constitutional muster: make it an independent agency, as proposed in a draft bill currently circulating in the House; allow it to function as a standalone agency while remaining in the legislative branch; or move it to the Commerce Department and possibly merge it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Regardless, the head of the office ought to be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, the report says.

“The Copyright Office needs the authority to build the systems that suit its unique needs, and the ongoing flexibility to respond nimbly to changes in the marketplace of the copyright system that the Office serves,” authors wrote. A Library of Congress spokeswoman had “no comment” about the report.

The recommendations echo many of those in a report released earlier this year by the Software and Information Industry Association, which also emphasized the need to give the Copyright Office more autonomy.

Authors of the Hudson report note that the “Copyright Office is perhaps the best investment in government with a more than $70,000 to $1 return on taxpayer funds.” They said taking the office out of the Library would better support the $1.1 trillion copyright sector.

“The answer is clear — the Copyright Office should have the authority to modernize for the needs of its customers,” they write.

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Congress, Copyright Office, Government IT News
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