Shakeup at the Copyright Office: publishers express concern

Shakeup at the Copyright Office: publishers express concern

I’ve written quite a bit about copyright, and it’s definitely an interest of mine.

All readers are affected by it. We’ve had some lively discussions about copyright in this blog.

Well, there was recently a major shakeup at the Copyright Office.

Now, to be clear, I think it’s an institution that could use some changes…I doubt very many people are satisfied with it the way it is. It definitely needs modernization (we should be able to easily go online and see if any book is in the public domain ((not under copyright protection)); that just seems obvious nowadays).

It would be nice if they would make definitive statements about policies…many of them seem deliberately fuzzy, leaving it up to the courts.

That said, though, what happened recently was a shock, and the “content industry” (books, music, and so on) seems generally dismayed and concerned.

Maria Pallante had been the Register of Copyrights since 2011, and had made some changes seen as favorable to content producers.

The new Librarian of Congress (been there less than two months), Carla Hayden, reassigned Pallante to a senior advisor position at the LoC…and Pallante declined and left.

Among the groups issuing a

statement of concern

is the Authors Guild.

It’s hard to tell exactly what this means.

There is talk about separating the Copyright Office from the Library of Congress (it’s currently under that organization), and perhaps this was a move in that direction.

There are rumors that this was done at the, um, suggestion of Google or other tech groups.

You see, there have been…differing points of view between content producers and tech companies. Tech companies benefit by making as much content available to their customers as easily as possible. They’d love to make it free and fully searchable and perhaps modifiable. They typically don’t make the money by selling the actual content…they sell advertising, and they may sell devices and network access. They don’t sell by the piece, most of the time.

Content producers want to be compensated, and their payment plans are most often based on piece sales. That may be changing, with subscription services like

Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

It’s important to note that Hayden’s term is for ten years…and is quite powerful.

This move certainly suggests that we are going to see a distinctive term with significant changes. My guess is that there will be reader-friendly policies…but ones that might not be as favorable for the content producers and distributors.

In the long term, that might be bad for readers…although that’s hard to say. If, and that’s a big if, the brand name authors of today can’t make a living the way they do now, it’s safe to say that they won’t all adapt successfully to a new paradigm (that’s happened with every big intellectual property change…silent movies, for example). Fragmentation of the industry, where many books are published by the authors, would also change things.

Solving the “orphan books” problem would matter…those are books which are under copyright, but not in print, and where no one can be found to authorize a new edition.

Saying definitively that we can digitize a print book which we have purchased and which is under copyright for our own use (without explicit authorization) would create an entirely new industry.

Whatever it is, it will likely affect what you will be reading ten years from now.

The Associate Register, Karyn Temple Claggettm is temporarily in charge, and they are searching for another Register.

Here are a few links:

What do you think? Is this change a good thing? How would you like to see copyright reformed? Do you worry that an independent Copyright Office might be less reader-friendly than the current situation (under the Library or Congress)? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project! Do you have what it takes to be a Timeblazer?

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

4 Responses to “Shakeup at the Copyright Office: publishers express concern”

  1. Man in the Middle Says:

    Until the Disney Corporation can no longer easily get the copyright for Mickey Mouse extended every time it is about to finally run out, it’s obvious that who benefits most from copyrights is not authors or their immediate families, let alone consumers. The question is, in a just world, why should the rights of huge corporations trump those of everyone else, just because they have more money for campaign contributions?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Man!

      Part of that last question is, though, what rights to both of those parties have? What rights do consumers have to works created by an individual…and then licensed to a corporation, as one example?

  2. Tuxy Says:

    I know I’ve posted this before here, but I would like to see short copyright terms that are renewable for a small fee. I would be okay with allowing them copyrights to be renewed forever, although I might consider a slowly increasing fee… (This would allow Disney to not feel the need to redo copyright laws every 20 years to keep Mickey Mouse). I would have terms be around 10 years at a time, and start the renewals someplace like $50. If you aren’t willing to pay $50 to keep your copyright for another 10 years, then your work would fall into the public domain at that time.

    I believe that I would consider a blog or something like that to be a single work, btw, so you wouldn’t have to go register every page of your blog every 10 years. I would probably count the copyright term from the first post date in that case, though. If that doesn’t work well, then there would need to be some sort of solution for blogs and periodicals… But overall, for books at least, I think an initial 10 year term, renewable indefinitely would allow content holders to keep control of their works while also protecting orphan works by allowing them to fall into the public domain quickly.

    I would allow copyrights to be inherited, but not sold. I don’t want to see some large company buying out a lot of people’s copyrights,then becoming a copyright mill. I don’t know yet what I feel about a corporation inheriting a copyright. Naturally for works created by a corporation (movies, video games, etc), those would have to have corporate ownership, but I don’t want a book publisher owning the copyright to an author’s books.

    This system would depend on having a good searchable database of the copyright status of everything. That would also make it easy for the system to send a reminder to content owners to let them know when their copyright is due for renewal. The renewal fees could be used to support the cost of maintaining this system.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Tuxy!

      I think it’s a reasonable proposal…renewing copyrights did result in a lot of things falling into the public domain in the past, though, which is part of why they did away with it. The also eliminated copyright fees just to have the copyright, but you do pay to register it. $50 may not seem like much, but it would be a barrier for some people. I think it would result in many more copyrights being sold…like you see those ads for paycheck loans, you would see them for copyright purchases. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but I do think you’d see more conglomerates of copyrights. You would stop copyrights being sold, but I assume the rights could be licensed?

      Right now, there are different rules for periodicals, so that could be maintained.

      Your solution certainly might work better for the orphan works problem. I’ve seen other suggestions for that, too…one is that, after a reasonable attempt to locate someone, a book could be published with money held in case anybody ever made a claim on it. That was part of the Google settlement proposal, basically. Of course, with the good database you suggest, searching for people shouldn’t be a challenge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: