NWU Report to AREG Meeting 2 June 2017

(Book Division Co-Chair Edward Hasbrouck is in Helsinki, Finland, representing the NWU and the International Federation of Journalists on the Board of IFRRO. On Friday, June 2, he will meet with the Authors’ Rights Expert Group of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ). The following is his report to AREG.)

The focus of discussion of copyright in the USA since October 2016 (even before the election of Trump) has been on proposed structural change to the Copyright Office, rather than on copyright policy.

Regulations and policies implementing the US Copyright Act are set by the US Copyright Office. For historical reasons, the Copyright Office is a division of the Library of Congress. Despite the name (“… of Congress”), the Librarian of Congress is appointed by the President. Congress has no role in the selection of the head of the Copyright Office.

In practice, the Copyright Office has generally operated as a technical body largely independent of party politics, and has worked closely with key members of Congress.

In October 2016, President Obama appointed a new Librarian of Congress who immediately sought to politicize the Copyright Office and use it for (anti-copyright) political purposes.  Without consulting Congress, the Librarian of Congress summarily removed the widely-respected head of the Copyright Office.

This action offended leaders of both parties in Congress, and many copyright stakeholders. In response, a bipartisan bill was introduced in Congress that would separate the Copyright Office from the Library of Congress, give Congress the right to review and approve the appointment of the head of the Copyright Office, and require consultation with Congress.

This bill is strongly opposed by anti-copyright groups that supported the “capture” of the Copyright Office by library interests. (There is no public lending right in the US. Libraries want wider exceptions to copyright for unremunerated use of digital content.)

Anti-copyright groups have falsely portrayed the bill as a Trump “power grab” intended to reduce the role of Congress, which is the opposite of its real intent and effect.

This bill has been approved by a wide margin in the House of Representatives, and is now under consideration in the Senate. It is expected to be approved later this year. If it is approved, it would lead to Congressional hearings on the appointment of a new head of the Copyright Office.

Most substantive policy-making by the Copyright Office has been deferred pending the resolution of this issue and the expected appointment of a new head of the Copyright Office.

Numerous copyright rulemaking proceedings remain in limbo at the Copyright Office. These include a petition for rulemaking by the NWU and other writers to reduce the burden and cost of copyright registration formalities, proposals for more unremunerated mass digitization, and a consultation on whether the US should adopt legislation to protect the moral rights of authors to attribution and integrity of their work.