The House of Representatives today passed a measure that would make significant changes to the selection process for the Register of Copyrights, a position currently appointed by the Librarian of Congress. By a vote of 378-48, the House approved the proposed "Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017" (H.R. 1695). If cleared by the Senate and signed by the President, the legislation will amend Section 701 of the Copyright Act to provide that the Register of Copyrights shall be selected from a pool of individuals recommended by a bipartisan panel consisting of leaders of the majorities and minorities of the House and Senate, as well as the Librarian of Congress. This panel would be tasked with submitting a list of at least three qualified individuals to the President. The President would nominate an individual from the selection panel’s list, and that individual would be subject to confirmation by the Senate. The Register would serve 10-year term and could be reappointed for a subsequent term. The President could remove the Register, but Congress would have to be notified.
The bill was introduced on March 23 by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va) and Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich). Twenty-nine co-sponsors signed onto the bill. The Judiciary Committee ordered the bill reported by a vote of 27 to 1 on March 29. The introduced version of the bill did not contain the provision about the selection panel, but provided only for appointment by the President with the Senate’s approval. The language regarding the selection panel was added to the version of the bill reported by the Judiciary Committee on April 20.
Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Conyers praised today’s vote. "The Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act is one product of the House Judiciary Committee’s multi-year comprehensive review of our copyright laws. This bipartisan review, which began under the tenure of the former Librarian of Congress in April 2013, has been focused on ensuring our copyright laws keep pace in the digital age and has included much discussion on the merits of giving the Copyright Office more autonomy with respect to the Library of Congress."
In a statement on the House floor today, Rep. Goodlatte said, "In the past, the authority of the Register of Copyrights to issue rulemakings has been challenged in the courts because the Register is not subject to the nomination and consent process. This legislation would remedy that question once and for all."
The legislation is part of a multifaceted copyright reform proposal released by the House Judiciary Committee last December. In other remarks, Rep. Goodlatte made note of the fact that today is World Intellectual Property Day, and stated, "Following House passage of this legislation, we intend to turn to the other Copyright Office reforms contained in our first policy proposal. As our copyright review continues, we remained fully committed to working with all Members and stakeholders to ensure that these laws are working in the digital age to reward creativity and protect the rights of authors, artists, and creators."
The bill was not without critics. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-Cal) strongly opposed the measure. "Despite the rushed manner in which this bill has been brought to the floor, there is absolutely no coherent rationale advanced as to how it will improve the administration of the Copyright office," Rep. Lofgren said. "Instead, this bill will only harm the public good, create a dysfunctional relationship between the Library of Congress and the Register of Copyright, and serve to delay Copyright modernization."
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