Late last Thursday, in a relatively rare bicameral announcement, five senior members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees endorsed legislation to transfer the power to appoint the Register of Copyrights from the Librarian of Congress to the President. The Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act (H.R. 1695) was authored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA6). It also was cosponsored on its introduction by the Committee’s Ranking Member, John Conyers (D-MI13), and 29 other members of the House (21 Republicans and 8 Democrats). Senate supporters currently are Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
The bill was referred to Mr. Goodlatte’s Committee for consideration and is widely expected to be voted upon (at least in Committee, if not the full House of Representatives) prior to the upcoming spring recess beginning April 10. No parallel Senate bill yet has been introduced and the pace of H.R. 1695’s or a similar bill’s review in that chamber, as well as which committee or committees will have jurisdiction over it, is currently unclear.
In a sharply worded statement, the Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) unqualifiedly opposed the bill on multiple grounds, particularly that it would politicize the Register’s position to the public’s detriment and inevitably slow the critically needed modernization of the Copyright Office. LCA, comprised of ALA, ACRL and ARL, also called the bill “mystifying” given that – if passed – Congress would voluntarily give up its power to appoint its own copyright advisor to the President to whom the bill also grants the power to fire the appointee at any time (despite the bill also confusingly specifying a 10-year renewable term of office for the Register)! Further, while the Senate would at least retain the power to confirm the nominee, the House would no longer have any influence on the selection process.
LCA’s statement was quoted at length by the widely read Beltway publications Washington Internet Daily (behind a paywall) and Broadcasting & Cable. ALA and its LCA partners will be monitoring H.R. 1695’s progress in the House and Senate closely.