The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would make the Register of Copyright a presidentially appointed position, instead of a part of the Library of Congress. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), will now move to the Senate, where it’s being put forward by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).
As we’ve written previously, this bill would grant the US Copyright Office more agency in advocating for specific copyright policy — something that’s previously led to conflict between the office and the Library of Congress. Goodlatte and other supporters of the bill describe it as a way to make the Register of Copyright democratically accountable, since they would be confirmed by the Senate rather than chosen by the Librarian of Congress. But it would also open it up to greater influence from lobbyists, particularly from groups that stand to benefit from harsher copyright rules — like the MPAA, which has praised the bill’s passage.
To some extent, the interests of librarians and preservationists are at odds with groups that advocate for stricter copyright law. It’s hard to archive modern media when you’re banned from “copying” it, which is necessary to do just about anything with a digital work. And groups like the MPAA have fought against letting works fall into the public domain, something that keeps old art accessible and allows artists and other creators to build on it. With this bill, they might have a freer hand than ever.