library copyright experts on Copyright Office independence

Forty-two different experts on libraries and copyright (including me) today submitted a letter to Congress regarding the recent proposal to pull the Copyright Office out of its historic home in the Library of Congress. While copyright maximalists have of late taken to calling for separation, in fact, libraries have for generations supported the entire copyright ecosystem. We buying and licensing hundreds of millions, probably billions, of dollars’ worth of copyrighted materials. We preserve those materials for future generations, ensuring the immortality of creators. We nurture and support writers, artists, musicians, and other creators in our academic, public, and school libraries, through educational workshops in law and publishing, access to archival and circulating collections, and material support in setting up creative labs and workspaces.

Not only do libraries in general support copyright, but the Library of Congress specifically supports the Copyright Office’s mission. It houses and provides a record of copyrighted works, ensuring that they can be documented and support ownership and authorship claims. The Library of Congress creates the metadata that creators rely on — from authority files for creators, organizations, and titles of works, to the keywords and databases that enable those works to be discovered.

In truth, librarians have always been the truest servants of “promot[ing] the Progress of Science and useful Arts”, and libraries the truest embodiment of that Progress.

I’m proud to have been a signatory, with 41 of my esteemed and knowledgeable colleagues, to this letter.

Full text below the fold; link to PDF here.



December 14, 2016

The Honorable Chuck Grassley
Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate
224 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-6050

The Honorable Patrick Leahy
Ranking Member, Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate
224 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-6050

The Honorable Bob Goodlatte
Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary
United States House of Representatives
2138 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable John Conyers
Ranking Member, Committee on the Judiciary
United States House of Representatives
2138 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Grassley, Ranking Member Leahy, Chairman Goodlatte, and Ranking Member Conyers,

We are 42 copyright lawyers, scholars, and expert librarians who work in and for libraries, and we write in our individual capacities in regards to Chairman Goodlatte’s and Ranking Member Conyers’s recent call for comments on the future of the Copyright Office. Specifically, we write to share our thoughts on the relationship between copyright and libraries, and why we believe the Copyright Office should continue to be housed in the Library of Congress. Other aspects of the House Judiciary Committee’s proposal are of interest to us, as well; for example, we believe members of our community should serve on any advisory board that serves the Office. We would be happy to discuss this and other aspects of reform with you. This letter, however, focuses on continuing the close relationship between the Copyright Office and the Library of Congress.

We were first prompted to write you because of the alarming letter dated November 28, 2016, sent to you from former Registers of Copyright Ralph Oman and Marybeth Peters. We disagree profoundly with Mr. Oman and Ms. Peters’ suggestion that, among other things, the interests of libraries are at times “hostile to the effective administration of our copyright system.” Copyright law and libraries do not have “competing interests” and “different priorities.” Rather, libraries in all their richness and complexity reflect and serve the range of values embodied in the Copyright Act, values that should be shared by the Copyright Office.

Cultural institutions and the Copyright Office are natural allies. The Constitution tells us in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, that copyright’s purpose is “to promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts.” Libraries share this core purpose and promote cultural progress in numerous ways, from massive financial investments in the acquisition and licensing of copyrighted works to the curation and preservation of our cultural heritage. Copyright law strikes an important balance between the short-term, private interests of authors and intermediaries, and the long-term interests of the public, including succeeding generations of authors and intermediaries, whose works build on the edifice of existing work. Libraries are not on one side of that balance; they are at the fulcrum, promoting broad access by investing heavily in copyrighted works, and educating patrons about authors’ and users’ rights.

While the former Registers acknowledge the important mission of libraries, and the law’s recognition of that importance, they seem to see the Copyright Office on the side of authors and media companies, with libraries and the public on the other side. They suggest, for example, that the Register was safe from undue influence so long as the Librarian was an author and not a professional librarian. Their descriptions of the benefits and beneficiaries of copyright focus almost exclusively on “individual creators and businesses.” For example, their letter highlights the impact of the Varsity Brands case (regarding the scope of copyright protection, if any, for certain fashion designs) on the “fashion industry,” not the public the law is required to serve.

We reject this false dichotomy between copyright and the public interest, and we are disappointed to see two former leaders of the Copyright Office suggest that the position they once occupied is identified primarily with a narrow conception of the interests of a limited set of commercial copyright holders. Most disappointing is the notion that the interests of copyright law itself are somehow in “tension” with the “laudable but limited” mission and priorities of our national library, or of any library. It would be a troubling indictment of copyright law, and of the Copyright Office, if its priorities were inimical to the institution charged with supporting the intellectual and creative endeavors of Congress, the government, and the American public.

Our experience as copyright experts in cultural institutions reveals a more balanced approach to the law, and a mission that is anything but “limited.” In our education and outreach efforts, we teach librarians and library users respect for every aspect of the law and appreciation for its complex but fundamentally public-serving character. We embrace fair use, first sale, interlibrary loan, and other important users’ and owners’ rights, as these are crucial parts of the copyright system. Without them libraries as we know them in this country could not exist. At the same time, we work hard to ensure respect for the ways copyright limits what we and our patrons can do without payment or permission. Our library colleagues respect and appreciate our roles as guardians of the rights of authors whose works our institutions shepherd.

We also serve creators and copyright holders directly. Libraries help writers and other creators not only by providing collections, but also by offering valuable copyright services. Universities, for example, are major producers of copyrighted works, and not all are texts or even academic scholarship. The faculties on our campuses include U.S. Poet Laureates, Academy Award-winning filmmakers, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, and Grammy Award-winning composers and musicians. Our students are the next generation of creative pioneers. In our services we assist authors and creators with understanding their rights under copyright, understanding and negotiating publishing agreements, choosing whether and how to publish their works online, and also when and how to seek permission from others. And of course, public and academic libraries support copyright holders by investing more than $4 billion per year acquiring content in print, electronic and digital formats.

We routinely consult with teachers and students who are creating films and showing films, creating music and performing music, creating art and displaying artworks, writing plays and performing plays. We educate these creators on various aspects of copyright, supporting them in maximizing the impact of their work and making lawful use of others’. Since creators are also users of copyrighted content, balance is essential for a robust creative culture and economy. We understand that copyright is a complex ecosystem of people who occupy different roles at different times (and often at the same time), not a zero-sum struggle between opposing sides. That ecosystem thrives in our libraries.

More and more libraries are hiring people like us, with legal training and copyright experience, to foster copyright literacy and awareness at our institutions and to facilitate exciting new initiatives that support the fundamental mission of higher education: teaching and research. The rich and complex nature of this work is extremely attractive to copyright practitioners. We cannot imagine the Library will have any difficulty recruiting a talented expert to occupy the position of Register of Copyrights.

The relevant GAO Reports and former Register Maria Pallante’s own public statements indicate that the Office’s challenges have little to do with politics or ideology. Ms. Pallante was concerned primarily about the Office’s budget and funding model and its acquisition and use of information technology. The Office needs desperately to improve the systems it uses to create and make accessible its registration and recordation collections, which together form a powerful map of the genome of human creativity. That map belongs to the American people, and the value of this information, both for commerce and for scholarship, is hard to overestimate. We hope Congress will support the Library and the Office as they seek the resources necessary to make this information useful to all.

Librarians are experts in organizing and managing information using cutting-edge technologies. We anticipate that the technological and bureaucratic challenges Ms. Pallante identified will benefit greatly from Dr. Hayden’s oversight, and that the Copyright Office’s struggles with management of its records will likewise benefit from professional librarian involvement. Rather than “tension,” there can be, and should be, symbiosis between the Office and the Library. Far from “historical accident,” the Office’s location as part of the Library reflects an acknowledgment of this symbiosis, and of the importance a free country should attach to a national library with a broad, deep, and well-described collection. Interference in this long-running relationship would be ill-advised.


Brandon Butler, J.D.
Director of Information Policy
University of Virginia Library

With the following co-signatories. All institutional affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.

Emilie Algenio, MLIS
Copyright/Fair Use Librarian
Texas A&M University Libraries

Sara R. Benson, LLM, JD
Assistant Professor & Copyright Librarian
University of Illinois Library

Josh Bolick, MLIS
Scholarly Communication Librarian
University of Kansas Libraries

Justin Bonfiglio, MLIS, JD
Copyright Specialist
University of Michigan Library

Laura Burtle, MSLS
Associate Dean, Scholarly Communications
Georgia State University Library

Dwayne K. Buttler, JD
Evelyn J. Schneider Endowed Chair for Scholarly Communication
Professor, University Libraries
University of Louisville

Kyle K. Courtney, JD
Copyright Advisor
Harvard University Library

Greg Cram, JD
Associate Director, Copyright and Information Policy
The New York Public Library

William M. Cross, MA, JD MSLS
Director, Copyright & Digital Scholarship Center
North Carolina State University Libraries

Katherine Dickson, JD, MA, MSLS
Copyright & Licensing Librarian
UNC Charlotte

Amy Vanderlyke Dygert, JD, MA, MS
Director of Copyright Services
Cornell University

Joan M. Emmet, MLS, JD
Licensing & Copyright Librarian
Yale University

Sandra A. Enimil, JD, MLIS
Program Director, Copyright Resources Center
The Ohio State University Libraries

Ana Enriquez, JD
Copyright Specialist
University of Michigan Library

Sharon E. Farb, JD, PhD
Associate University Librarian and Chief Content Strategist
UCLA Library

Donna L. Ferullo, MLS, JD
Director, University Copyright Office & Professor
Purdue University

Ellen Finnie
Head, Scholarly Communications and Collections Strategy
MIT Libraries

Katie Fortney, JD, MLIS
Copyright Policy & Education Officer
California Digital Library, University of California

Christine Fruin, MSLIS, JD
Scholarly Communications Librarian
University of Florida

Anne T. Gilliland, MLS, JD
Scholarly Communications Officer
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

David R. Hansen, MSLS, JD
Director, Office of Copyright & Scholarly Communications
Duke University Libraries

April M. Hathcock, JD, LLM, MLIS
Scholarly Communication Librarian
New York University Libraries

Peter B. Hirtle, MA, MLS
Affiliate Fellow
Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University

Peggy E. Hoon, JD
Director of Copyright Policy and Education
Louisiana State University

Brandy Karl, JD, LLM
Copyright Officer
Pennsylvania State University

Molly Keener, MLIS
Scholarly Communication Librarian
Wake Forest University

Mark Konecny, MMLIS, PhD
Scholarly Communications and Digital Publishing Strategist
University of Cincinnati

Lisa A. Macklin, JD, MA, MLS
Director, Scholarly Communications Office
Emory University

Nazareth A. Pantaloni, III, JD, MS, PhD
Copyright Program Librarian
Indiana University Libraries

Rina Elster Pantalony LLB (JD equiv.)
Director, Copyright Advisory Office
Columbia University Libraries

Laura Quilter, MLIS, JD
Copyright and Information Policy Librarian/Attorney
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Rachael G. Samberg, MLIS, JD
Scholarly Communication Officer
UC Berkeley Library

Maria Scheid, JD
Rights Management Specialist, Copyright Resources Center
The Ohio State University Libraries

Nancy Sims, JD, MLIS
Copyright Program Librarian
University of Minnesota

Kevin Smith, JD
Dean of Libraries
University of Kansas

Becky Thoms, MLS
Head of Digital Initiatives & Copyright Librarian
Utah State University Libraries

Bing Wang, JD, MLIS, MS
Director, Intellectual Property Advisory Office
Georgia Institute of Technology Libraries

Nate Wise, MA
Digital Content/Intellectual Property Rights Specialist
Brigham Young University – Idaho McKay Library

Michael Wolfe, JD
Scholarly Communications Officer
University of California, Davis Library

Micah Zeller, JD
Copyright & Digital Access Librarian
Washington University in St. Louis

Katie Zimmerman, JD, MLIS
Scholarly Communications and Licensing Librarian
MIT Libraries

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