Want to fix copyright law in the United States? Then start by destroying the US Copyright Office.
The US Copyright Office doesn’t have a leader. There isn’t a ‘Register’. And why is that? Well, the last one was fired for blowing nearly $40 million on approximately nothing.
I’m not an investigator. And I don’t want some ex-bureaucrat suing me. But this stuff is now well documented. In fact, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren slammed ex-Register Maria Pallante for fabricating $25 million in expenses (yeah, go read about that).
On top of that, a leaked report showed that another $11-12 million was blown on a copyright database because of gross incompetence.
Americans pay a lot of taxes. Music industry businesses pay a lot more taxes. So when we learn about blatant waste like this, it really, really stings.
What else is the US Copyright Office wasting?
Think about how incredibly screwed up US Copyright Law is right now. At any given moment, courts across the United States are arbitrating issues based on non-sensical, contradictory laws related to recordings and publishing. An inane Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is twenty years out of date. And it’s the entire reason why the music industry can never compete against big bullies like YouTube.
It’s also the reason why it took a decade for the music industry to start rebounding. RIAA chairman Cary Sherman said it best: the recovery happened in spite of US Copyright Law, not because of it.
Meanwhile, courts are also deliberating plagiarism cases involving songs like ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and ‘Blurred Lines,’ with very little underlying guidance. Others are getting bullied for writing simpleton pieces that sort of sound like other simpleton pieces. And they’re losing millions in settlements, just because they don’t have the money or sophistication to defend themselves.
So what exactly constitutes a rip-off, US Copyright Office? Please, tell us! And if the US Copyright Office can’t inform, update, and drive changes to make copyright relevant in 2017, WTF are they doing? Where is that guidance and change going to come from, if not from the agency specifically created to develop a framework to protect creativity and oversee copyright in America?
Because without any critical guidance, judges are forced to essentially write laws through precedent.
They’re making it up as they go, because they have to.
All of which means we’re blowing hundreds of millions while competing music industry factions wage war in our courtrooms. Judges have better things to do. Too bad Americans are paying their salaries, too, not to mention keeping the lights on during all of these ridiculous deliberations.
Back in DC, Copyright Tribunals sit in small courtrooms deliberating picayune details about archaic licenses. Yep, we’re paying their salaries, too, yet artists themselves can’t get paid because there isn’t a clear copyright code to pay them.
So if you’re the little guy, you’re screwed. And so is your creativity.
Depending on how you look at it, Copyright Law in the United States hasn’t been substantially updated in 20 years. But I’d argue it’s more like 40.
Yeah, it’s that fucked up.
But that’s not the US Copyright Office’s fault!
It isn’t? The US Copyright Office was created to establish and maintain a clear, up-to-date Copyright Law that protects creativity in the US and even abroad. That was their original charter in the late 1700s.
None of that is happening. In fact, it feels like we’re experiencing the opposite of that.
So whose job should it be to fix that?
Where’s the cage-rattling, the massive overhaul in Copyright Law, the urgent drive to update antiquated statutes? In the last few years, there hasn’t been one proposal to radically update the US Copyright Law of 1976. What’s the reason for that?
Maybe there are $37 million reasons for that.
But what about copyright registration? We need that!
Yeah, we also need the DMV to issue license plates. But we don’t need the same office to determine transportation policy in the United States. In fact, we definitely don’t want administrators who oversee smog checks and drivers’ licenses to be managing sophisticated planning issues around self-driving cars, Uber, and urban congestion.
One can deal with the paperwork, the other can determine complex policy. In fact, you could hand copyright registration tasks to any number of capable, private firms in the music industry: Music Reports, SoundExchange, even the PROs or a digital distributor.
They’d process applications and filings according to the laws and statutes. That would be their job, and they’d take a cut for doing it. They could handle it, for a far lower fee.
(Quick update: see the comment below on how pathetically bad the US Copyright Office is at even registering works!)
The United States Copyright Office was created to construct a unified, sensible copyright system that protects creativity and innovation in this country. It’s not even close to accomplishing that mission in 2017.
So what should President Donald Trump do? Last month, Congress introduced legislation to give Trump the power to select and remove the next Register of Copyrights.
What they should really do is give him the power to destroy the entire building. As long as we’re bombing things, right?