During a recent congressional hearing, Register Maria Pallante testified in favor of Congress granting the Copyright Office independence from the Library of Congress. Under the current regime, the Copyright Office is merely a department of the Library of Congress, unlike the Patent and Trademark Offices which are independent of any other organization. And unlike other agencies, which have rule-making authority, any changes to the Copyright Act must be passed by Congress. A good example of this situation is the difference between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) versus the Copyright Office. The EPA has the ability to take environmental statutes and make the rules as to how they are to be carried out. In effect, Congress passes a statute that says carbon-emissions must be decreased by X% over 10 years, and it is up to the EPA to make the rules as to how this is accomplished. It gives the EPA the flexibility it needs to adapt the law to rapidly changing circumstances and research. However, all changes to copyright laws must be passed by Congress, which, as one can imagine, can take a long time (and oftentimes the changes are tabled for years). As a result, copyright law has struggled to keep up with technological advancements.
The Register noted that the mission of the Library and the Copyright Office were no longer aligned, and that the Copyright Office needed to be able to have its own staff that was separate from the Library of Congress in order to be able to keep up with changes in copyright issues. She also discussed the content of several reports, including the recently released Music Licensing Study. To watch the webcast of her testimony, click here.
An independent Copyright Office with rule-making authority is eminently practical and is long overdue. Technology is changing every day, providing opportunities for artists to publish their works in new and exciting mediums while making it easier for others to infringe that work. The Copyright Office needs to have the ability to keep up with these changes without having to go through Congress first as such a process is, by design, long and arduous. (In reality, we don’t want a legislative body to be able to quickly pass sweeping changes to laws–such an ability is dangerous in a democratic society.) Yet the Copyright Office needs to be able to keep up with society, and adapt rules to modern technology.