Copyright chief presses for more authority over IT systems

The head of the U.S. Copyright Office urged lawmakers to give the unit more authority to update its information technology.

The head of the U.S. Copyright Office urged lawmakers to give the unit more authority to update its information technology.

“The IT system being divorced from the Copyright Office has been a terrible model,” Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante told a receptive House Judiciary Committee in a hearing Wednesday.

While the Copyright Office handles intellectual property, it falls under the purview of the Library of Congress, not the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. As a result, the office’s major technology investments must go through the Library, and its archaic IT systems have suffered. The Government Accountability Office found in a recent report that “serious weaknesses” in the Library’s IT systems have “hindered the ability of the Library and the Copyright Office to meet mission requirements.”

Earlier this year, intellectual property lawyers asked Congress to help the Copyright Office fix its outdated systems.


 Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante testifies before House Judiciary Committee April 29, 2015. (Screenshot of committee feed)

Appearing as the hearing’s only witness Wednesday, Pallante told the committee the office needs the authority and funding to have its own IT staff and develop its own systems. She also pressed lawmakers to allow the office to exist as an independent agency.

The issue, she said, is pressing.

“We have a situation where we have to map out the next decade,” Pallante told lawmakers. “And we either have to do it in the current structure … or we’re doing it in a way that’s more targeted to the copyright system.”

Currently, the office’s recordation system — a public record of licensing agreements, contracts and other documents — is all paper-based. Pallante said the office is ready to bring that process online but must figure out whether to do that in an internal IT infrastructure or through the Library. She also said the recordation system is not linked to copyright registration database.


The hearing, which was interrupted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s address to Congress, is part of a two-year review of the country’s copyright laws. At the hearing, the register spoke on a range of topics, including fair use, illegal streaming and music licensing.

During a break, Pallante told FedScoop she is confident Congress will give her department the independent designation it seeks.

“I have a lot of faith in this committee,” she said. “I think that they understand 21st century copyright law needs a 21st century agency.”

In her written testimony, Pallante touts her efforts to modernize the office’s IT systems, and last year, she appointed the office’s first CIO. Looking ahead, she hopes to hire a professional technical and data team that can design an enterprise architecture for the agency.

The team “doesn’t have to be big,” she told FedScoop. “But it’s almost ludicrous to think our staff doesn’t have that right now.”


After that, she said, comes the “fun part” — like, figuring out how to capture copyright metadata and relate it to the private licensing market, or developing a system to register a copyright on an iPad.

“Then, it gets exciting,” she said.

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