Maria Pallante, Register of Copyrights, to Congress: Copyright Needs to Be Updated for Digital Age

Maria Pallante, Register of Copyrights, will urge Congress to think about passing “the next great copyright act” that will be “more forward thinking and flexible than before” when she testifies before the House Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet on Wednesday (March 20). Copyright law needs to be updated for the digital age, Pallante will tell the Subcommittee, because “if one needs an army of lawyers to understand the basic precepts of the law, then it is time for a new law.”

Although the changes to copyright law would not happen for a number of years, they would undoubtedly be impactful for the music business. For example, entire business models depend on specific provisions of copyright law, such as the DMCA safe harbor that has allowed sites like YouTube and Facebook to operate while removing infringing user-uploaded content. The lack of a public performance right for sound recordings means record labels and performing artists are not compensated for the recordings' performance on terrestrial radio.

Pallante will be the lone witness in a hearing about the updating of copyright law that begins at 3:30pm Wednesday. Her prepared statement is available at the House Judiciary Committee’s website.

Although Congress will not need to start from scratch on some issues -- it has requested a number of studies from the Copyright Office on topics such as statutory licensing reform, federalization of pre-1972 recordings -- Pallante will ask Congress "to apply fresh eyes" to copyright law so it remains "relevant and functional." She will specifically ask Congress to reconsider the current life plus 50 years term of copyright. One remedy she suggests is keeping the length of copyright but requiring the copyright all into public domain unless the heir or successor to register their interests at the Copyright Office.

Pallante will also highlight a number of topics that are likely to be part of the copyright reform talks, including reviewing the efficacy of the DMCA, reforming the music marketplace, updating the framework for cable and satellite transmissions, encouraging new licensing regimes and improving the systems of copyright registration and recordation.

The hearing is "part of a coordinated, slow march" toward copyright reform by new House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Pallante, a source tells Billboard. If Goodlatte wants to leave his mark on copyright, he will need to move relatively quickly given the pace of change copyright issues usually see. House committee chairmanships are limited to six years.