Copyright Office seeks comment on IT modernization plan

The estimated $165 million plan aims to link integrate two of the office's key systems for tracking copyright information for songs, books and other creative works.

The Copyright Office is seeking comment on a comprehensive technology plan to make its IT “lean, nimble, results-driven, and future-focused.”

As it stands, many interest groups, like the Software & Information Industry Association, which has expressed its displeasure with Copyright’s IT in the past, are more likely to describe it as “antiquated, incompatible and impractical.” Criticism came to a head last summer when the Copyright Office’s systems went dark for more than a week after a data center managed by its parent agency, the Library of Congress, went offline.

Copyright’s more-than-100-page plan, released late last month, lays out some of the system’s problems: For one, its decade-old registration system doesn’t take advantage of newer technologies. So, users can’t register their books, songs or other copyrightable works using mobile phones or apps, or use an API to search public data. And it’s all tied to a propriety system and a “dated and costly underlying architecture which, even if updated, could not permit the kind of flexibility needed for the national copyright system to stay current.”

At the same time, the office’s recordation system, its archive of licensing agreements for copyrights and other documents, isn’t linked to its registration system — in fact, it’s still paper-based.


U.S. Copyright Register Maria Pallante wrote at the beginning of the report that an overhaul is critical.

“It is clear that making incremental improvements will not be enough,” Pallante said. “We must shift the approach entirely, and the IT Plan therefore provides a flexible platform that others can build upon for the effortless protection and licensing of copyrighted works.”

Among the remedies are plans to use an open source technology platform where a range of third-party companies could build software. It aims to move away from using a federally managed data center and embrace the cloud.  

Officials also would integrate office’s recordation system online with its registration system.

The plan, which the office estimates would cost about $165 million over five years, assumes that the modernization effort will be overseen by the Copyright Office. Currently, the Library of Congress oversees the servers, storage and other IT used by the office — a major a pain point for Pallante.


“I just really feel that people who work on Copyright Office IT should be in the Copyright Office, in the mission, working side by side with the other experts,” Pallante told FedScoop in November. At the time, Pallante was outlining a modernization plan for the office that leaned heavily on tech improvements. This recent report builds on that earlier plan.

In the recent report, she noted ongoing discussions about the future structure of the office. Some have suggested moving it from the Library of Congress’ purview entirely. Pallante said that the plan is flexible enough to allow for structural changes of the office.

“It does, however, necessarily depart from the status quo in which the Copyright Office manages software applications and the Library of Congress manages underlying IT systems,” she wrote.

Comments on the plan are due March 31. 

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