Update on H.R. 1695: Should the Register of Copyrights Become a Political Appointee?

For those not familiar with the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act (H.R. 1695) this Legislative Bill would extinguish the authority of the Librarian of Congress to appoint the Register of Copyrights, a responsibility that the Librarian has held since 1870. There has been relatively little public discussion of the Bill – in fact it has already passed in the House of Representatives. If the Bill is passed by the Senate, the power to appoint and dismiss the Register would shift to the President.



Supporters of the Bill argue that removal of the Librarian’s appointment power is necessary to modernize the Copyright Office. Among the questions that have been raised by the Bill’s proposal, however, is how modernization of the Copyright Office would be aided by making the Register’s appointment a political process. Given the Constitutional directive that the primary function of copyright is to serve the national interest in promoting the progress of the arts and sciences, it seems reasonable to expect that the expert entrusted with curating the national repository of knowledge and culture would also be well-qualified to appoint a Register capable of serving the public interest in the modern administration of the copyright system.

The actual text of H.R. 1695 does not enumerate modernization of the Copyright Office as one of its objectives. Consequently some critics urge that the Bill is actually an effort to benefit the Content Industries at the public’s expense. “This bill serves no purpose other than to take power away from the Librarian of Congress and give it to powerful lobbyists, who will have a major say in who runs the Copyright Office,” writes Michael Masnick on TechDirt.com. “It’s…a gift to Hollywood.” Other critics argue that the Bill is a veiled attack on the current Librarian. According to Laura Burke of NewsOne Now, “President Barack Obama appointed [Dr. Carla] Hayden the 14th Librarian of Congress on February 24, 2016. She is the first African American to hold the position, as well as the first woman to be the Librarian of Congress….On March 23, legislation was introduced to block Hayden from appointing the next Register of Copyrights.”

Both supporters and opponents seem to agree that Dr. Hayden’s reassignment of former Register Maria Pallante, who subsequently resigned, is one issue at the heart of the controversy. In an article in The Hill, H.R 1695 supporters Dina LaPolt and John Meller write that “[T]he Librarian of Congress…is rarely … in tune with copyright issues…to put it mildly…. [L]ast year, without warning or justification, the Librarian fired Register Maria Pallante, long heralded as a fantastic Register and advocate for strong copyright protection.” While serving in her position, Register Pallante publicly expressed the view that “Copyright is for the author first and the nation second.”

Given the important public interest functions that both the Librarian and the Register embody in the copyright system, H.R. 1695 raises important issues of copyright social justice. Attached below is a link to the text of the Bill, as well as links to various commentaries in support of and in opposition to the proposed legislation.

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H.R. 1695 Bill Text


Commentaries in support of H.R. 1695



Commentaries in opposition to H.R. 1695



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