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
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
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:
- Publishers Weekly article by Andrew Albanese
- Music Week article by Emmanuel Legrand
- TELEREAD article by David Rothman
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.
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