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Thoughts On the Next Register of Copyrights

Thursday, January 26, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Kirsten Phillips
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As I mentioned in my first blog post of 2017, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden has invited the public to comment on the expertise needed by the next Register of Copyrights using this online form any time before January 31. Last week Library Journal helpfully published an article called “Library Experts Weigh in On Next Register of Copyrights” as a resource. After lengthy consideration of the points made in this article and in all of the rest of the articles and other resources I linked to throughout 2016, I decided to submit the following response to Librarian Hayden:


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


The Register of Copyrights should have a strong understanding of the U.S. copyright law, its historical antecedents, and its international counterparts. He or she should appreciate the history and importance of fair use, without which it would not be able to evolve and adapt to societal and technological changes quickly enough to ensure that it fulfills its constitutionally-defined purpose to “promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts.” He or she should be able to marshal the Copyright Office’s resource and focus them on the goal of creating many more tools like the Fair Use Index developed during the last Register’s tenure which make copyright law more transparent and useful to the American people, and on making the Copyright Office’s internal databases publicly-accessible and open so that members of the public and other interested parties can create tools on top of them which meet their own purposes. Lastly, he or she should have the ability to work together well with the Librarian of Congress as they pursue missions which are in no way incompatible.


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

  •  PRIORITY #1: The constitutionally-defined purpose of U.S. copyright law is to “promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts.” The top priority of the Register of Copyrights is to work toward ensuring that the law is written and interpreted in such a way that it actually fulfills this purpose.
  • PRIORITY #2: I agree with the argument made by Brandon Butler in Library Journal a top priority of the Register of Copyrights should be to create a publicly-accessible, searchable database of registered works. This database should be open, which will allow members of the public and other interested parties to build tools on top of it which meet their own purposes, and once it is fully functional its existence should factor into the statutory treatment of orphan works.
  • PRIORITY #3: The goal of U.S. copyright law is entirely compatible with the Library of Congress’s mission to provide “access to a rich, diverse and enduring source of knowledge to inform, inspire and engage you in your intellectual and creative endeavors”: after all, if people aren’t motivated to create new works, there will be nothing for the Library to collect! One of the top priorities of the Register of Copyrights should be to work together with the Librarian of Congress to fulfill their mutual goals.


I hope that readers of this blog will consider submitting input of their own! Please feel free to email me if you’d like to talk about whatever you’re thinking about saying first!

Return to Copyright Matters page.