Why Does The Copyright Office Keep Acting Like A Lobbying Arm For Hollywood?
from the doesn't-seem-appropriate dept
We’ve noted a few times recently that the Copyright Office has inserted itself into policy disputes where it has no business being. It’s important to note that the role of the Copyright Office is supposed to be a rather specific one: to handle the registration of copyrights. It has little official roles in terms of actual policymaking — the role is more about executing on the policy decisions of Congress. And, yet, over the years the Copyright Office has become a revolving door way station for execs from the entertainment industry, where they seek to use the Copyright Office as something of a taxpayer funded pro-legacy industry lobbying arm. Just in the last few months, we’ve reported on how the Copyright Office was flat out lying to the FCC about how copyright works in an effort to support the cable industry’s plan to stop competition in set top boxes. Then there’s its plan to strip websites of their safe harbors by making it a bureaucratic nightmare. Oh, and also its new plan to mess up the part of copyright law that protects libraries and archives. And let’s not forget the absolutely ridiculous hearings the Copyright Office held a few months ago about the DMCA safe harbors, where they seemed 100% focused on pushing the RIAA/MPAA’s plan to blame Google for everything.
What the hell is going on with the Copyright Office? This is not in its mandate and yet it’s run like a government-funded lobbying arm of Hollywood? The folks over at Public Knowledge have now started putting together a long list (much longer than the above examples) of the Copyright Office incorrectly weighing in on policy issues, taking positions that favor the desires of the legacy copyright industries, rather than what the law actually says. It’s a long and very troubling list.
As Public Knowledge notes: “If you?ve ever wondered what a captured agency looks like, look no further.”
Here are just a couple of the examples from the list:
The Copyright Office famously endorsed the doomed (and downright awful) Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act, collectively known as SOPA/PIPA. Despite the fact that the bill attacked safe harbor mechanisms, allowed the US government to censor foreign websites, made posting copyrighted work under any circumstances a felony, and swept together all user-driven sites with upload capabilities as ?promoting piracy,? the Copyright Office was unwavering in its support. In testimony before Congress, Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante called the bill ?a sound policy choice,? ?measured,? and thanked its drafters for drafting language that ?would bestow a number of important responsibilities on the Copyright Office.?
A ?Making Available? Right that Never Existed
In a 2016 report, the Copyright Office declared that U.S. copyright law had an unwritten right that gave copyright holders the power to dictate how, when, and under what circumstances their works were ?made available?–or even offered–to consumers. The Office took a ?squint-and-you?ll-see-it? approach, saying that the right existed by implication through a ?gestalt?-style reading of the distribution, public performance, and public display rights. Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante even commented that ?People question if we have ?making available? in the US, and we do–via treaties–and this report will make it clear that we have making available already. The question is whether Congress needs to do anything to make that clear or not.?
First, that?s not how treaties (or laws, really) work. Signing a treaty doesn?t make specific rights magically appear in U.S. law. Here–and in most cases–Congress has to actually write statutes to implement treaty requirements. If they decline to write the actual statutes, that?s a pretty clear sign that they?re not interested. And aside from the fact that the right doesn?t actually, you know, exist anywhere in the statute, the Copyright Office conveniently omitted the fact that numerous courts (the majority of those considering it, in fact) have rejected the idea.
The creation of an imaginary right wasn?t the only thing wrong in the office?s report; it also claimed that the Copyright Act?s requirement that a copy be a ?tangible medium of expression? didn?t really mean anything and could encompass even offered transmissions of data–accepted or not. Alarmingly, the office decided that merely putting files in an accessible place would make a person just as liable as actually distributing them. As support, they cited a handful of minor district court cases from places such as Massachusetts, ignored higher court rulings to the contrary, deemed it an ?unbroken line of authority,? and called it a day.
It’s no secret that the Copyright Office wants more of a say in policy issues. This is a big part of the reason why it has been not-so-subtly lobbying to have the Office itself removed from the Library of Congress and set up as an independent agency (or, possibly, merged into the Patent and Trademark Office). But when it’s already lobbying in ways that directly counteract the law (which more than one court has noted recently…) and appearing to act like a taxpayer-funded lobbying arm for some private companies, it raises some fairly serious concerns about the priorities and motivations of the Copyright Office and its staff.