The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Modernizing the Copyright Office

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


The digital economy is continuing to grow, and copyright works, including books, movies, music and other creative works, play a large role in that growth. According to the International Intellectual Property Alliance, copyright contributes more than $1 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product, and copyright industries employ nearly 5.5 million workers.

However, as the digitization of creative works increases, so does need for a more modern mechanism to register works with the U.S. Copyright Office. In its current configuration, the Librarian of Congress oversees the U.S. Copyright Office with the Register of Copyrights managing the day-to-day operations. However, the Copyright Office’s budget is within that of the Library of Congress, and subject to the priorities of the Librarian.

During an April 29, 2015 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, U.S. Register of Copyrights and Director of the U.S. Copyright Office Maria A. Pallante stated, “Difficulties have been most pronounced in the area of information technology. Witnesses have stressed the importance of technology to the proper administration of the copyright law, points well known to myself and my staff.” She further illustrated the problems inherent with what she called “one of the smallest staffs within the government generally or the Library specifically,” as well as issues stemming from being under the Library’s technology governance and overall operational budget and priorities. She discussed the need for the Copyright Office to have its own chief information officer, technology staff, and management autonomy to improve and create a more modern operation.

On June 4, 2015, Reps. Tom Marino (R-Penn.) and Judy Chu (D-Calif.) issued a discussion draft of legislation that seeks to modernize the Copyright Office. The bill would separate the Copyright Office from the Library of Congress in order to provide it more autonomy as an independent agency. While the merits of the bill’s provisions have not been fully explored, it does provide an opportunity for greater discussion of the modernization of the Copyright Office to meet the demands and complexity of the digital economy.

The twenty-first century needs a modern Copyright Office that can nimbly process registration requests. Further discussion on the best way to move the Copyright Office forward into the digital era is necessary, but can also provide the basis for creating a more streamlined and efficient registration process for the future.

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