3 Reasons Why the Copyright Office’s Independence Matters to Authors

Photo credit: Skley via Visual hunt / CC BY-ND

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would increase the autonomy and authority of the Copyright Office. Why is it important? If you’re a professional writer, here are three reasons why it matters.

The bill, called Register of Copyright Selection and Accountability Act (H.R. 1695), was passed on April 26. The U.S. Senate will now consider the bill. “In this day and age, it makes no sense for the Copyright Office to report to the Library of Congress. We need to ensure the Copyright Office has the resources it needs to serve the nation’s creative industries,” said Mary Rasenberger, executive director of the Authors Guild.

The bill creates a panel of Congressional leaders who would recommend at least three qualified candidates to the U.S. president, who would then appoint the register. The librarian of Congress currently appoints the register.

In two email messages to members, the guild outlined several reasons why the bill is important to professional authors. They include the following:

#1 The Copyright Office provides essential services to authors. The office registers authors’ works, assists authors in record transfers or assignment of copyrights, and performs research to secure licenses to use other people’s work.

 #2 The Copyright Office is the only government agency in the U.S. charged with serving the interest of authors and other individual creators. It is currently under the Library of Congress and tied to the latter’s Information Technology Department. “The Library is not suitable for a 24/7 online customer agency like the Copyright Office,” said the guild. During the last shutdown of the federal government, the Copyright Office’s website and registration system were also down, resulting in missed deadlines for some authors.

#3 A copyright provides legal protection for original works of authorship, such as literary, dramatic, musical, and other types of creative works. The Copyright Office’s work helps authors to get paid fairly for the use of their works. In contrast, the Library of Congress naturally desires to maximize free access to books at the least cost. At present, the librarian of Congress is not required to be knowledgeable about copyright.

“The policy goals of the Library of Congress and the Copyright Office are not always aligned. Both agencies serve our nation’s culture, but that’s where their shared goals end,” according to the Authors Guild.

The organization, formerly known as the Authors League of America, was founded in 1912. It has a long history of working with the Copyright Office on issues affecting authors.

Full disclosure: I’m a member of the Authors Guild.

Read more about the Register of Copyright Selection and Accountability Act (H.R. 1695).

Read the Authors Guild’s statement about the bill.

Read other stories about the Authors Guild:

New Bill Aims to Help Authors Enforce Copyright Protection

Author Richard Russo Calls Out Google for Justifying Theft as Public Service

4 Reasons Why I Joined the Authors Guild and Why You Should Too

Photo credit: Skley via Visual hunt /  CC BY-ND


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