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Will the Music Industry Get a Copyrights Register Bill for the Holidays?

Now that the Music Modernization Act has passed, music business lobbyists are trying to make some progress on other bills on their holiday wish list.

Now that the Music Modernization Act has passed, music business lobbyists are trying to make some progress on other bills on their holiday wish list. One priority is the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017, which would make the country’s highest copyright official — currently chosen by the Librarian of Congress — a presidential appointee. The bill passed the House of Representatives in April and has languished in the Senate since then, but there’s a burst of effort to try to pass it before the end of the term.

The bill was scheduled for markup in the Senate Rules Committee on Dec. 12, but there wasn’t a quorum. So supporters checked with Senators to see if the bill could be “hotlined,” or passed by unanimous consent. But at least two senators have objections to the bill, according to a lobbyist, and the odds seem to be against the bill passing before the end of the term — although moving it forward could establish momentum that would help in 2019.

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The process of appointing a new Register of Copyrights has been contentious since Maria Pallante was essentially pushed out of the job by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden in fall 2016. For historical reasons, the U.S. Copyright Office is part of the Library of Congress, which is part of the Legislative Branch. But there’s a natural tension between copyright and the Library’s function, and there’s a perception — although not much evidence either way — that Hayden could be inclined to appoint a new Register who’s inclined to roll back copyright protections.

The Register has no official policymaking power, but he or she advises Congress, manages registrations of works and enacts various rulemaking procedures. Since Pallante was pushed out, the Acting Register of Copyrights has been Karyn Temple. If the bill passes, several lobbyists told Billboard, Temple is expected to take the job in a permanent capacity. Claggett formerly worked at the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

The idea of making the Register a presidential appointee has become more controversial than it otherwise would be because of the current president and the fact that Hayden is the first African-American Librarian of Congress. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which generally opposes strong copyright laws, advised readers to “Tell the Senate not to make the Register of Copyrights a presidential pawn.” Although the Register has always served under the Librarian, that has more to do with history than ironclad logic: The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is part of the Commerce Department, which is itself part of the Executive Branch, and it handles some copyright issues.

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“The Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act will elevate the position of the Register, add transparency, and is a much-needed step forward,” National Music Publishers Association CEO David Israelite said in a statement to Billboard. “This has been a huge year for copyright with the recent signing of the Music Modernization Act and we hope Congress builds on that momentum and gets this bill done before it adjourns.”

Other music lobbyists agreed. “We welcome this bill which addresses the important constitutional and process issues with the Copyright Office and recognizes the importance of copyright to the United States economy,” Michele Ballantyne, RIAA executive vice president for public policy and industry relations, said in a statement to Billboard.

If the bill passes the Senate, a similar version would then need to pass the House of Representatives. But given the limited amount of time left in the Congressional term, it’s unlikely — but still very possible this may happen.

“We’re hoping for a Christmas miracle,” Copyright Alliance CEO Keith Kupferschmid told Billboard.