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House committee advances bill to make copyrights post a presidential appointment

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House committee advances bill to make copyrights post a presidential appointment

Lawmakers from the House Judiciary Committee on March 29 voted to move forward a bill to make the Register of Copyrights a presidential appointee with advice from Congress, a move that has been praised by copyright organizations but opposed by digital rights groups and librarians.

The copyright office, which has long been under the supervision of the Library of Congress, oversees a variety of issues affecting content creators, such as the copyrighted material on Alphabet Inc.'s YouTube and other sites. The House committee voted 27-1 to approve the bill, which would still need approval by the full House and Senate before becoming law.

Lawmakers say the bipartisan bill aims to increase the office's autonomy by giving Congress more of a voice in its leadership. Opponents, including Rep. Zoe Lofgren D-Calif., the lone dissenter in the March 29 committee vote, argue that it would politicize the office.

An amendment to the bill would make Carla Hayden, who was sworn in as librarian of Congress in September 2016, part of a seven-member panel of lawmakers, including majority and minority leaders from the House and Senate, that would advise the president on prospective appointees for the office. Hayden is working on initiatives to modernize the Library's technology infrastructure and update the Copyright Office's registration system.

The bill received praise from right holders groups. "It's time to modernize the Copyright Office, which includes putting the Register – a critical steward of the Constitutionally-enshrined principle of copyright – on equal footing with fellow appointees who oversee similarly significant and vital industries," said former Sen. Chris Dodd, now the MPAA's Chairman and CEO, in a statement.

But Public Knowledge, an open internet and copyright advocacy group, argued the bill raises larger questions about the copyright office's structure.

"It is unclear who will really oversee the Register of Copyrights in practice — if the Register remains an employee of the Library of Congress, housed within the legislative branch, but appointed directly by the President and removable by him or her at will," Ryan Clough, the group's general counsel said in a statement. "This could be a recipe for dysfunction."

Soon after being appointed by former President Barack Obama, Hayden fired Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante, who had faced criticism from digital rights groups concerned that she was too close to certain copyright holders. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, public records requests revealed that as the office considered proposals on set-top boxes, Pallante had met several times with representatives of the MPAA and companies such as Comcast Corp. and Viacom Inc.