On Dec. 8, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R - Virginia) and Ranking Member Jon Conyers Jr. (D - Michigan) unveiled the first policy proposal to U.S. Copyright law. The proposal is the result of Committee's review of U.S. Copyright law and the Copyright Office's current operations. The lawmakers maintained that the Office is still conducting itself according to what was effective in the 20th century, asserting it should have the resources necessary to navigate contemporary copyright challenges.

The proposed copyright amendments 

The proposals were broken down into 4 subsections: The Register of Copyrights and Copyright Office Structure, Copyright Office Advisory Committees, Information Technology Upgrades and Small Claims.

  1. The Register of Copyrights and Copyright Office Structure The Committee first proposed that the Office should retain its position within "the Legislative Branch where it can provide independent and timely advice to Congress on copyright law and policy." In addition, the proposal recommended that the "Office should have autonomy over its budget and technology needs." Finally, the proposal recommended that "selection of future Registers of Copyright…be subject to a nomination and consent process" like other senior government officials "to ensure that the American people have an opportunity to provide input into the selection."
  2. Copyright Office Advisory Committees The Committee also recommended that the Copyright Office have a "combination of permanent and ad-hoc advisory committees to advise the Register on critical issues," comprised of members that "reflect a wide range of views and interests."
  3. Information Technology Upgrades The Committee further "urged the quickest rollout possible" of the Copyright Office's recently released "IT modernization plan with an estimated cost of $165 million over 5 years." It was proposed that such modernization include a "searchable, digital database of historical and current copyright ownership information," which would be a vast improvement on the system currently in place, or lack thereof. The proposal also discusses options to allow the Copyright office to charge fees for certain services to "generate revenue for IT modernization."
  4. Small Claims Finally, the Committee proposed that the Copyright Office "host a small claims system" that would "handle low value infringement cases as well as bad faith Section 512 notices."

What proposed copyright reform could mean for the entertainment industry

Given that this proposal is the first of many to come, how copyright reform will impact the content creators and distributors is merely speculative, but journalists and analysts have already weighed in with viewpoints.

For example, Billboard expanded on the proposal's "small claims system" idea. The proposed system would enable copyright owners to sue without having to deal with the traditional legal ordeal associated with such an effort. If implemented, the system would put a cap on how much a copyright holder could receive in damages. Billboard noted the infringement penalties would be much less than the maximum statutory damages of $150,000 per work.

It is worth mentioning that the policy proposals, at this time, are just that – proposals. In a video statement, Goodlatte and Conyers reiterate this point by stating "these policy proposals are not meant to be the final word on reform in these individual issue areas, but rather a starting point for further discussion by all stakeholders, with the goal of producing legislative text within each issue area."

Do you have any questions? Would you like to discuss the matter further? If so, please contact me, Shane Birnbaum, at 201-806-3364.