U.S. Copyright Office Belongs in the Library of Congress

By Emily Feltren

Last month, Representatives Tom Marino (R-Penn.) and Judy Chu (D-Calif.) introduced a discussion draft of the Copyright Office for the Digital Economy Act or CODE Act, which proposes to establish the Copyright Office as an independent agency outside of the Library of Congress (LC) and within the Executive Branch. AALL opposes the CODE Act, which we believe would weaken the Copyright Office and create barriers for the Library of Congress in building a comprehensive national collection.

The Copyright Office was first established within the Library of Congress 145 years ago, deliberately housed in LC because the location would contribute to building a comprehensive national library. The Copyright Office’s location within the Library also serves as an important reminder to all that the United States’ copyright system must benefit the public and not solely copyright owners. Since 1870, the Copyright Office has helped build a national collection through mandatory deposit, which has benefited not only LC, but also law libraries and members of the public who can turn to the Library of Congress to find copyrighted works that might otherwise be unknown and inaccessible. Unfortunately, the CODE Act removes the requirement of deposit, giving the Director of the Copyright Office the discretion to define what must be deposited.

While we agree with Reps. Marino and Chu that the Copyright Office must upgrade its technology for the digital age, we don’t believe that moving the Copyright Office out of LC is the solution. As an independent agency, the Copyright Office would simply give up its current challenges for new ones. For example, the Office would be responsible for funding its own capital investments, so additional appropriations would likely be needed. The Office would be required to set up a unique and complex technology infrastructure without the benefit of LC’s resources, which would require the Office to hire new staff and allocate significant resources to responsibilities outside of the core mission of the Office.

AALL believes that a new Librarian of Congress will be able to address many of the technology and other concerns raised in the recent Government Accountability Office report (GAO-15-338) and by the Copyright Office itself. An openness to collaboration and a commitment from both LC and the Copyright Office to work together to address the Copyright Office’s needs will lead to a better copyright system for all. AALL’s newly-updated Government Relations Policy makes our position clear: the Copyright Office “is well-served by its home in the Library of Congress.” Rather than trying to establish the Copyright Office as an independent agency, we urge Congress to appropriate adequate funding for the Copyright Office in the Library of Congress’ budget.

AALL agrees that the Copyright Office needs to transform itself for the 21st century. The CODE Act is not the answer.

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