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New Register of Copyrights should put public at the center of technology and policy goals


The Library of Congress in an incredible institution in the United States, serving as the research library for Congress, and stewarding an unparalleled collection of books and cultural works of all types. Over the last several years, groups have called on the library to make technology and policy changes to remain relevant in the 21st century, in order to meet its mission “to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations.”

We’ve already mentioned a fews ways the Library of Congress could better support public access to information and cultural heritage materials, including opening up the Congressional Research Service so that the useful and timely reports are publicly shared with everyone (in addition to members of Congress), and developing a “digitization swat team” to ensure that all relevant government information and resources are accessible and discoverable online.

Now that Carla Hayden is the new Librarian of Congress, there’s been significant interest and hope that she will re-infuse the institution with excitement and digital vitality, and help address some of the technological challenges faced by the Library for many years.

One of the key roles overseen by Hayden is the director of the U.S. Copyright Office; this position is called the Register of Copyrights. Upon the departure of the most recent register Maria Pallante, Hayden initiated a public consultation to solicit information on the knowledge, skills, and expertise necessary for the next Register.

Creative Commons submitted answers to the survey questions (reproduced below). You can share your thoughts to the questionnaire through January 31, 2017.

What are the knowledge, skills, and abilities you believe are the most important for the Register of Copyrights?

The Register of Copyrights should put the public at the center of the Copyright Office’s strategy and work plan. The Register should support and uphold key principles such as evidence-based policy analysis and development, nimble and user-focused technological improvements, open-minded public information gathering, and transparent decision making.

The Register should also have a firm grasp of technology and understanding of how creators and users share over the internet, and be willing to reconsider policies that impede the sharing of content in the digital era. The Register should also be able to engage with the broader community in ways other than a formal request for information and comments. The register should talk with and understand the challenges and opportunities of creators of all types, and listen to feedback and ideas from those who are generating new types of creative works.

What should be the top three priorities for the Register of Copyrights?

Regarding authors’ rights, copyright policymaking should uphold a principle of “copyright neutrality”. This means that when copyright policy is made, it needs to treat all stakeholders (authors) equally and take all authorial needs into consideration, not just those who wish to maximize their protection under the law, or who have an outsized ability to influence the policy-making process. Some authors are interested in commercialization, while others wish to share widely under permissive terms. The Register and the Office should develop and implement processes to make it inexpensive and simple to declare authorship and public license status, and for authors to dedicate works to the public domain. Copyright Office policy and practice should contain features that address the needs of all types of authors, whatever their choices along the copyright spectrum.

Regarding users and the public, the Register and Office should redouble its strategic priority to “make copyright records easily searchable and widely available to authors, entrepreneurs, and all who need them”. The Register should prioritize making collection metadata freely available in digital form, preferably by releasing an API or a similar approach so the public can build tools and interesting applications around the content. The public’s interaction with the copyright registration, recordation, and other systems should operate as 21st century users expect.

The Register and the Office should focus on overhauling the DMCA 1201 exemption-granting process by committing to reforms in the public interest. Changes should make the process less complex, less expensive, and less burdensome to those parties seeking an exemption. These could include—but are not limited to—a presumed renewal where no opposition exists, making particular exemptions permanent, and refusing to consider concerns not focused specifically on copyright. In addition to positive changes that can be made from within the Copyright Office, the Register should call for Congressional action to address these and related problems.

Posted 26 January 2017