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Copyright Office IT modernization progress report

Stack of academic books about copyright. Stock photo.
The library community has been urging Congress not to derail the Copyright Office (CO)’s ongoing IT modernization by relocating it now or in the future. Rights holders, on the other hand, have been lobbying hard for CO independence. Some of them argue that the CO should become independent of the Library of Congress (LC) because the CO’s technology needs, rights holders suggest, are inherently different. In fact, both seem to have similar needs: record management, searchable databases, archiving, online transactions, security, storage availability and data integrity, to name a few.

I am happy to report, according to a new Copyright Office report submitted to the House Committee on Appropriations, “Modified U.S. Copyright Office Provisional IT Modernization Plan,” IT modernization at the CO is well underway. Much credit goes to Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden, who was confirmed in July 2016. One of the first things that Dr. Hayden did was restructure her management team so the head of the Library’s Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) now reports directly to her, thus allowing the Librarian to manage modernization for the entire LC, including the CO. As a result, the House Committee on Appropriations asked the CO to modify its 2016 Provisional Plan, which assumed that modernization would be “managed from within the Copyright Office.” The modified plan makes clear that coordination between LC and CO is now the new normal.

And real progress has been made. The last year has been spent studying the many complex elements of the CO’s copyright recordation function. Currently, a manual system is used to record who currently holds the exclusive rights to a work, with a six to 10-month lag time for integrating new records. (So, if the work you are interested in is not an orphan work, the CO can tell you who holds the copyright of a work only as of late 2016.)

The work plan has three phases over the next several years. The existing systems for registration (the ancient eCo system), public records catalog (which currently limits retrieval of search sets to 10,000 results – ouch!) and the statutory licensing systems are slated to be scrapped for new systems and significant upgrades. The CO has a fiduciary responsibility to distribute royalty fees to rights holders, so any system also must be able to ingest and examine licensing data. Of course, accomplishing these goals will take several years and there will be a period in which the old and new systems will operate concurrently, but enhancements will be implemented in as early as two years.

While other national priorities have moved copyright review legislation to Congress’ back burner, the OCIO and the CO are making progress on much-needed IT modernization. By working together, the OCIO can work towards the IT goals of the CO as well as provide needed IT support. Meanwhile, LC, OCIO and CO should be congratulated for the progress made thus far, which already has cut two years off earlier IT improvement projections.

So, if relocating the Copyright Office makes little technical, functional or economic sense, it’s hard to say how it will be any more sensible as time and improvements march on.

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Carrie Russell

As of November 2018, District Dispatch is no longer being updated. It is now being archived for future use. Please visit for the latest news.

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