Every single day, millions of Americans enjoy the benefits of a robust copyright system that has been responsibly guided and carefully enacted by the U.S. Congress over the past two centuries. Indeed, only just recently, Congress updated the incredibly complex music provisions of the law, and we continue to have hearings on issues that show the deep regard of this Nation when it comes to incentivizing music, movies, books and art—works that speak to our values and progress as a Nation. By its very design, the copyright law encourages artists big and small, ultimately fueling the public domain for ages to come.
And copyright is an economic powerhouse. According to the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) 2018 report, Copyright Industries in the U.S. Economy, copyright intensive industries contribute $1.3 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product, representing almost 7% of the entire economy. These industries also employ close to 5.7 million American workers with an annual average salary of almost $100,000. In a word, copyright is essential—both to American public life and the broader American innovation economy.
Unfortunately, Congress has fallen behind in one crucial aspect of the copyright system: ensuring that the American people have a nimble, state-of-the-art, and efficient Copyright Office at their service. The Copyright Office administers the copyright law, not only registering a wealth of intellectual property but also providing the public with critical notice of ownership, licenses and assignments, date of publication, public domain status and more. But despite years of debate amongst Congress and stakeholders, the Copyright Office remains woefully underfunded and antiquated. It no longer effectively serves the needs of the United States.
To be fair, the Office has done its best to adapt over time but has been hamstrung by outdated statutory authorities, the lack of adequate appropriated funds, antiquated legacy IT systems, and other structural issues.
For all of these reasons, my Subcommittee [the Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property] will convene a hearing later this month to provide oversight and support of the Copyright Office. At this hearing, we’ll hear from the recently appointed Register, Karyn Temple, about the efforts the Office is undertaking to adapt to the 21st century and find out from her what tools, authorities, and resources she needs from Congress in order to modernize the office. I’ve met with Karyn and I am confident she is the right person at the right time to finally launch the Office into the 21st century. At this hearing, I will also announce a bipartisan, bicameral legislative effort to update the Copyright Office. This effort will involve stakeholders from across the copyright community and general public, and it is my hope that our work throughout the fall will produce a bill by the end of this year that provides the Copyright Office with the appropriate structural autonomy and necessary resources it needs to support the America’s creators in the 21st century. The United States deserves no less.
I look forward to working with all interested parties throughout this effort so that we can have a top-notch agency for the 21st century. This isn’t a partisan issue. It isn’t an ideological issue. Everyone, from rights holders to the general public, deserves an efficient and effective Office. That’s what I’m committed to providing, and I look forward to seeing what this effort produces. Working together, we can and will bring the Office into the 21st century and ensure that America’s copyright economy continues to provide the aesthetic, economic, and cultural benefits that are so important to each of us.
Read the op-ed here.