By Rosa Mendoza, Executive Director, HTTP
It is an exciting time in the creative industries. New distribution platforms are making content available when, where and how consumers choose to access it. And programmers are creating more great content than ever before for audiences to enjoy, helping to drive adoption of new technologies and services. But the Copyright Office—which helps facilitate the marketplace for creative works by registering copyrights and advising Congress on copyright policy—is struggling to keep pace in the digital age.
In a historical quirk, the Copyright Office is housed in the Library of Congress and the head of the Office—called the Register of Copyrights—is chosen unilaterally by the Librarian. The Library has a nationally important mission, but that mission is different from and sometimes in conflict with the mission of the Copyright Office. The Copyright Office has long sought to modernize its operations, but is hamstrung because it does not control its staff, resources, or technology, and must answer to the priorities of the Library. The Copyright Office’s plight was recently on display when in September 2015 a week-long IT failure at the Library took down the Copyright Office’s systems with it, “costing the office an estimated $650,000 in lost fees and causing headaches for approximately 12,000 customers” according to the Washington Post. As a recent GAO report concluded, the Library of Congress has “significant weaknesses across several areas” —and former Registers have lacked the authority or resources to fix these problems.
The Register is the steward of copyright policy and a creative economy that now contributes $1.2 trillion to U.S. GDP and employs 5.5. million people. It doesn’t make sense for the Register to be a subordinate official in the Library.
Fortunately, Congress is now considering bipartisan legislation, the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act, to make the Register a presidentially nominated, Senate confirmed position, much like other officials overseeing similarly significant industries. This will start the long overdue process of giving the Register of Copyrights the autonomy needed to implement necessary reforms. The bill recently passed out of the House Judiciary Committee by the overwhelming bipartisan vote of 27-1, and will be considered by the full House soon.
Why should Latino communities care about a little known government agency like the Copyright Office and its struggles to adapt to a changing marketplace? Because Latino creators and audiences are at the forefront of that changing marketplace. For evidence look no further than what the Pew Research Center reported in July 2016 that “since 2009, the share of Latino adults who report using the internet increased 20 percentage points, up from 64% then to 84% in 2015.” And Hispanic audiences are leading the online charge to find great content. Neilson reports that Latinos are “72 percent more likely to stream video than any other group.”
As Latino audiences are leading the online migration, Latino creators are harnessing the influence and technological savvy of those audiences to share their stories and make a living. For instance, Mitu, a successful online network that launched on YouTube in 2012 states “our inspiration is ‘the 200%’ – youth who are 100% American and 100% Latino.” And Latino photographers, authors, musicians, programmers and more are also leveraging new technologies.
Creation and production of new technology and content means a significant amount of valuable intellectual property is being created, which is protected and monetized by copyrights. If creators can’t easily register their copyrights at the Copyright Office—and people wishing to license, say, that photo or song or other content for their web site or commercial or book, the creators and audiences lose out. More fundamentally, if the Copyright Office is not in a position to advocate for strong copyright policy, creators won’t be able to derive benefit from their hard work, even when people do find it, and won’t be able to continue creating. To put it plainly, copyright should provide meaningful protections to creators and the Copyright Office should help facilitate the digital marketplace for copyrighted works.
HR 1695 starts the process of fixing this situation by elevating the Register to a stature commensurate with the importance of the creative economy over which she presides.
Latino communities continue to make their voices heard in American politics, markets and culture. As Latino creators and audiences continue to drive the cultural marketplace and dialogue, Congress should ensure that the government agency tasked with helping the creative economy continues to flourish and has the autonomy and resources it needs to serve creators of all backgrounds and cultures.