By: Ruth Vitale, CEO CreativeFuture
There is so much political rhetoric flying through the air these days, you can be forgiven if your eyes glaze over at the thought of a deep dive into the intricacies of “H.R. 1695 – Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017.” But amidst the chaotic shouting matches that dominate cable news and Twitter feeds, something encouraging just happened in Washington, D.C. – a groundswell of bipartisanship.
Can you imagine?
Miraculously, lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill (H.R. 1695) and that bill passed the House overwhelmingly (378 – 48) with bipartisan support – and now the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017 is headed to the Senate.
The Bill was entirely uncontroversial until Rep. Zoe Lofgren and Rep. Jared Polis launched a small but heated misinformation campaign in an attempt to derail the bill in the weeks leading up to the vote. Then, a few hours after H.R. 1695 passed the House by an overwhelming bipartisan majority, the Electronic Frontier Foundation tried to stoke the dying flames of opposition by posting a piece entitled, “Register of Copyrights Bill Passes the House, We’re Gearing Up to Fight it in the Senate.” In it, author Kerry Sheehan quotes Rep. Lofgren at length (probably because she mentioned Electronic Frontier Foundation on the House floor) in her breathless opposition to “special interests” and “lobbying power.”
It’s fascinating that Rep. Lofgren would vent her concern over special interests and lobbying power while quoting the EFF, a well-known “special interest” and “lobbying power” supported by big-moneyed Internet elites with a decidedly one-sided (and wrong-headed) view of copyright.
It might be worthwhile to mention that Rep. Lofgren was the only member of the House Judiciary Committee to vote against H.R. 1695, and that she herself has a track record of hostility towards the Copyright Office and opposing legislative efforts to help creatives. That may not be surprising for a Member of Congress who represents Silicon Valley, where many of the EFF’s moneyed interests are based.
Nor should it be surprising coming from Rep. Polis – also thanked effusively in EFF’s reaction to the Bill’s passage in the House. He is consistently ranked as one of the wealthiest members of the House, and his fortune (in excess of $350 million) was largely accrued from industries with deep ties to the same industry elites.
Representing the interests of their constituents is what Reps. Lofgren and Polis were elected to do. However, their constituents are not even opposed to this bill. In fact, the technology sector stands to benefit from modernization of the Copyright Office and has not been vocal in opposition. For the EFF to single out two elected officials as some signal that they are riding the crest of a wave of opposition doesn’t earn them any political leverage. More likely, it earns them the nickname, Entirely False Foundation.
H.R. 1695 (and its new Senate counterpart, S. 1010) is a narrow, uncontroversial bill that would help modernize the badly outmoded manner in which copyrights are filed and recorded in the digital era, while also giving every American a voice in the selection of the Register through their elected representatives. H.R. 1695 would make the Register of Copyrights a position nominated from a pool of qualified candidates assembled by Congressional leadership and the Librarian of Congress, nominated by the President, and confirmed by the Senate.
Why is this necessary? Because it’s the 21st century. Because Copyright is important. And because the Copyright Office should be too.
It’s time to nominate, confirm, and hold accountable a Register of Copyrights whose 10-year term allows the public to continually revisit reforms and have a fully transparent view – and voice – in how copyright law is implemented.
And do you know who wants this most of all? The actual “little guy” – the independent filmmaker, the classical violinist, the portrait photographer, folksinger, screenwriter, and poet. Real creatives whose blood, sweat, and tears go into entertaining and uplifting our communities and the world. And H.R. 1695 goes a long way in leveling the playing field so that these creatives can protect their work and possibly even make a living from it. What a crazy idea!
The EFF wants you to believe that this is a battle between consumers and the big bad content companies. That’s “Entirely False.” It is about the ability of everyone – creatives and consumers of copyrighted content alike – to benefit from a modern Copyright Office with modern systems for submitting and accessing information needed to drive creativity and innovation.
The EFF’s initiatives and editorial agenda tips heavily in favor of some of the most powerful corporate interests in the world. This is well within the rights of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but they can’t dress up these concerns by posing as an outsider underdog fighting on behalf of freedom, bolstered by the false notion that copyright is a threat to free speech.
The United States is home to the largest, most influential, and most valuable copyright industries on the planet. Apart from accounting for 6.88 percent of the U.S. economy, the core copyright industries create more revenue from exports than aeronautics, agriculture, or pharmaceuticals. The Copyright Office must be equipped financially and technologically to oversee a creative economy that contributes more than a trillion dollars and allows millions of Americans to get up and go to work. These are big industries – but so many of the contributors are hard-working employees, entrepreneurs, and independents.
The Copyright Office – as it now stands – is not able to handle the digital deluge of intellectual property that has become the defining characteristic of the information age. And the Library of Congress that currently houses the Copyright Office has its own distinct – even conflicting – interests and no particular expertise in copyright or the needs of the Copyright Office.
It’s kind of odd that the EFF – who often praises modernity – continues to argue that the Copyright Office should not be modernized, and that the selection of the Register of Copyrights should not be open to a nomination process, hearings, and public scrutiny.
Why? What might happen if the public were given better access to information about copyright and made more aware of just how vital copyright is and how much there is at stake in preserving the rights of creatives and the works that derived from their imaginations?
Today, the Register is chosen by one individual (the Librarian of Congress) without any input from our elected representatives. This is unheard of for a job this important. Cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries, and assistant secretaries are presidentially-appointed. Over 1,000 positions are. The head of the Patent and Trademark Office is. The head of the Fish and Wildlife Service is. The head of the Copyright Office is not. WHY?
God forbid lawmakers should discuss the state of copyright in full view of the public, lest they become informed about just how much the creative community is being exploited. Intellectual property belongs to its creatives, who can sell it, burn it, exhibit it, perform it, eat it, or give it away for free to the entire world at once. The distinction being, of course, that it is and should be the choice of the creative what is to be done with his or her work – not the EFF’s.
Creatives rely on the protection of strong copyright law to allow them to reap the rewards from the works that they create. The EFF doesn’t get to talk about the “little guy” when they work for the big guys.
Before taking this job, my entire career was in independent film, working with the little guys – the independent voices. I ran companies as diverse as Vestron, Fine Line Features, Paramount Classics, and First Look Pictures. I’ve launched the careers of filmmakers such as Paul Greengrass (The Theory of Flight and Bloody Sunday), Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides), Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me), Scott Hicks (Shine), among others. This bill is an important first step in preserving the next generation of voices (the next Paul, Sofia, Kenneth, and Scott) who will bring us new stories and fresh perspectives.
Copyright matters to all of us – it matters to the 5.5 million AMERICAN workers whose livelihoods depend on it and to the studios whose business models wouldn’t be possible without it. These are the little guys and the big guys!
If you’re sick and tired of politics, we don’t blame you. In many ways, we are too. But when something as necessary and uncontroversial as H.R. 1695 is introduced and passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, do we really need fake “freedom fighters” such as the EFF complicating one of the few moments of clarity in our politics with disinformation?
“H.R. 1695 – Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017” sounds boring because in many ways it is. Sometimes boring is good. But it is important and necessary, supported by lawmakers from districts all across the United States and from both parties, including representatives from both Hollywood and Silicon Valley – who understand the value of creativity and the existential necessity of modernizing the Copyright Office in the face of advancing technology. We’ll take boring if boring means “no-brainer.”
Call your Senator and urge them to vote in favor of the real little guy. Don’t worry about the EFF. They’ll still get their checks from their well-heeled backers. (And they’ll actually do some good, too, as they take on some constructive causes when they are not venting their bizarre hatred for copyright.) If you are an artist, have one in the family, aspire to be one yourself, or simply enjoy the fruits from the rich cultural fabric of our country, then you want this boring but necessary bill to pass.
In the face of such division in our political discourse, here is an opportunity to encourage bipartisanship, creativity, and to send a signal to the independent creatives across the country that someone has their backs.
We do. Please join us.