U.S. Copyright Office Steps Into the Future (Albeit Slowly) With Its Strategic Plan for 2022-2026
Years in the making, the U.S. Copyright Office has released a new strategic plan – Fostering Creativity and Enriching Culture (the “Plan”) – to be implemented over 2022-2026. Its overarching purpose is to make the copyright system more accessible, understandable, and up to date, as well as more useful to a broader array of communities and constituencies. The Plan embodies four key goals: Copyright for All, Impartial Expertise, Continuous Development, and Enhanced Use of Data. As a practical matter, this means an increased emphasis on digitization and e-services protection for consumers and copyright owners.
The foreword of the Plan includes commentary by the Copyright Office’s Director, Shira Perlmutter. In a statement that squarely describes today’s copyright landscape and challenges, she says:
“In today’s digital economy, copyright has become increasingly relevant to the public, as virtually everyone on the internet is both an author and a user of creative works. This includes individuals who may not have access to the expertise or resources of professionals. At the same time, services utilizing vast numbers of copyrighted works have multiplied, providing benefits to consumers but straining traditional licensing mechanisms. The Copyright Office needs to adapt proactively to the resulting new reality, while upholding the fundamentals that have served us well for more than 150 years.”
Thus, the Plan aims to strike a balance, within the boundaries of U.S. copyright law, between the rights of traditional creators of copyrighted works like journalists, authors and musicians, on the one hand, and the millions of people who stream or download music, films, e-books and other copyrighted work on the internet, on the other. The Director also correctly points out that nowadays, many of us unknowingly create copyrighted content.
Going back to the four goals, let’s take a closer look at what each of them entails:
Copyright for All
With “Copyright for All,” the Copyright Office wants to expand its information and education outreach to the public, including small entities, individuals and, with specific emphasis, historically under-served communities. A key objective is to increase diversity and accessibility. The Copyright Office will seek to partner with organizations with a track record of reaching under-served communities to fulfill this goal. In addition, in December 2020, Congress passed the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2020 (CASE Act), which directed the Copyright Office to establish the Copyright Claims Board (“CCB”). The CCB is a three-member tribunal within the Office that will provide an efficient and user-friendly option to resolve copyright “small claims” – disputes that involve up to $30,000 – another mechanism to attract and include more people in the copyright system.
At the same time, the Copyright Office is undergoing a large-scale tech modernization transformation, transforming both its external services and internal work processes and expanding its Enterprise Copyright System (“ECS”) to make all of the Office’s services digitized, interconnected, searchable, and easier to navigate. The Office will continue its modernization plan by developing a business intelligence tool, updating public information capabilities, modernizing its public interface, and improving tracking of physical materials. For those regularly filing at the U.S. Copyright Office, these will come as welcomed improvements (albeit late to the field).
The Copyright Office’s objective under “Impartial Expertise” is to continue to be a “trusted source of impartial expertise on copyright law, policy, and practice” to Congress, in relation to evolving technologies and markets. To reach this goal, the Office will conduct research and publish studies of the effects of new technology and markets on copyrighted works and evolve accordingly, once again aspiring to become a more valued resource for both Congress and the public.
Enhanced Use of Data
The idea here is to use data “as an evidentiary foundation for policy making,” for legislation to be rooted in data, and to use objective data to “improve measurements of internal performance.” This is fundamentally a transparency goal by which the U.S. Copyright Office wishes to increase access to data both internally and externally and make the basis of their decision making more transparent and objectively supported.
The Plan and the ongoing work of the Copyright Office demonstrate a clear understanding of the increasing demand for digitized services. Truth be told, the Plan should have been initiated much earlier and already be completed, save for continued updates and expansions. That said, if the modernization achieved for the public is as advertised resulting in more accessible systems, then it will have been worth waiting for.
The United States Copyright Office’s responsibilities include registering copyright claims; recording information about copyright ownership; managing licensing fees; educating the public; and advising Congress, the judiciary, and the executive branch on copyright issues. Since 2020, the United States Copyright Office also operates a copyright small claim tribunal, the Copyright Claims Board, for claims up to $30,000. The United States Copyright Office holds the largest collection of copyrighted works in the world.
Source: United States Copyright Office.
This article is intended as a general discussion of these issues only and is not to be considered legal advice or relied upon. For more information, please contact RPJ Associate Nafsika Karavida who counsels clients on employment, intellectual property, corporate and transactional, and cross-border commercial law. Ms. Karavida is admitted to practice law in Connecticut and New York, as well as Sweden and the European Union.
 United States Copyright Office Strategic Plan 2022-2026, Fostering Creativity and Enriching Culture, p. 3.
 Ibid, p. 6.
 Ibid., p. 7.
 Ibid, p. 8.
 Ibid, p. 9.