In March 2013, U.S. Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante gave the Horace S. Manges Lecture at Columbia Law School. Settling into her role as Register, she compared some of the issues of the day to issues that had faced previous Registers, and urged Congress, the copyright bar, the creative community and the public at large to consider beginning work on “The Next Great Copyright Act.”
Now, after more than a year of comprehensive review hearings before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, and simultaneous inquiries into various copyright topics by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and by the Copyright Office itself, it is possible to explore whether a “Next Great Copyright Act” is the best approach to address the challenges facing authors and their audiences, or whether other bold approaches, such as a restructuring of the Copyright Office, might better serve the public interest.
As an advocate for artists and authors, I believe that the Copyright Act must first and foremost serve the public interest, which, as Register Pallante aptly noted in her remarks, is inextricably linked with promoting the well-being of authors and artists. Put simply, if the public believes that art matters, then its authors matter. Consequently, a Copyright Act that encourages and empowers artists and authors in the creation and dissemination of works of authorship to the public best serves the public interest. These principles have been at the heart of copyright law in the United States since the beginning. Because copyright law is now more than ever also intertwined with the advancement of new technologies, we also cannot ignore the need to ensure a Copyright Act that is as “future proof’ as possible. This suggests that a nimble approach to addressing the issues of the day is needed.