Karyn A. Temple has been appointed Register of Copyrights, a job she has held on an acting basis for two and a half years. The announcement, made March 27 by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, will end years of debate about the appropriate way to fill the country’s top copyright job — at least for now.
Temple, who worked as Associate Register of Copyrights from 2013 until she became Acting Register, is generally seen as being evenhanded on the kinds of intellectual property issues that have become contentious in the digital age. She steps into the Register job at a time when the Copyright Office, which she will run, is in the midst of a pair of important studies and will soon choose who will run the licensing collective mandated to collect mechanical royalties under last year’s Music Modernization Act.
“Being here permanently, I can share my vision for the Office for the future and begin thinking more long term,” Temple told Billboard just before her appointment was announced. Within about a week, Temple plans to release a strategic plan that will lay out the Copyright Office’s priorities for the next five years.
One important task is modernizing the Office’s information technology infrastructure, which has been a source of frustration for rights holders and digital services alike. “Information technology modernization will be our No. 1 focus,” Temple said. She also wants to update various other aspects of the way the Office operates, devote more attention to outreach and continue to provide impartial expertise on copyright policy.
By July 8, the Copyright Office will choose which team will run the mechanical royalty collecting society created by the Music Modernization Act. “We’ve said we’re committed to an open and transparent process,” Temple said. Within the next month, Temple said the Office will also release a study on the moral rights of creators and conduct a public roundtable on the effectiveness of section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the “notice and takedown” provision — which could be contentious now that the new EU Copyright Directive lays out a stricter standard.
The Register job has not traditionally been the subject of much political debate. For historical reasons, the Copyright Office is part of the Library of Congress, in the legislative branch, and the Register is appointed by the Librarian. But Hayden’s decision to remove former Register Maria Pallante intensified a debate about how best to make the appointment. The Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017, which would make the position a presidential appointee, passed the House of Representatives in April 2017 and was considered in the Senate but couldn’t get enough support to pass.
Hayden had been asked by members of Congress not to select a new Register while legislation that would change the appointment process was being considered. Temple’s appointment is likely to remove most of the urgency from this debate — partly because it was expected by so many copyright experts — but it’s not clear if legislation to change the process will be re-introduced. If it is, that would only affect future appointments.
Although the debate involved legal concerns about the legally appropriate way to make political appointments, it also to some extent reflected a split between media companies that wanted the president to appoint the Register and technology companies that favor looser copyright policies and wanted to keep the decision in the hands of the Librarian. As a career librarian, Hayden is perceived by some media lobbyists to be unsympathetic to intellectual property, although she hasn’t made many public statements, let alone decisions, that reveal much about her thinking.