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Is the U.S. Copyright Office biased toward a for-profit industry?

The U.S. Copyright Office exists as an office of public record for copyright registrations and related material. As an entity of the federal government and division of the Library of Congress, it is intended to be neutral in its dealings regarding registrations, infringements and policy.

A recent report from Public Knowledge suggests that the Copyright Office is anything but neutral. The report asserts that the agency instead harbors a bias toward the for-profit entertainment industries.

Public Knowledge's report, titled "Captured: Systemic Bias at the U.S. Copyright Office," indicates both the source and the results of this bias, or "regulatory capture." The alleged source, according to the 50-page report, is the revolving door of human resources between the Copyright Office and entertainment industry. This includes individuals in leadership, legal and policy positions who were previously affiliated with the stakeholder industries.

As for the results, Public Knowledge alleges that the Copyright Office:

  • Misinterprets the scope of copyright to benefit stakeholders
  • Pushes to expand copyright at the expense of consumer rights
  • Issues decisions on matters that are beyond the scope of copyright at the benefit of rights holders
  • Prioritizes its own agenda above those of non-self-interested stakeholders

Additionally, the report also notes that the decisions of the Copyright Office are frequently overturned or ignored by Congress, the courts and other related agencies.

"To even begin to address the Copyright Office's systemic problems, we must, as a nation, have a serious discussion about the Office's relationship to industry, its accountability, and its intended role within the government," Meredith Rose, Policy Advocate at Public Knowledge, stated in the September 8 press release for this report.

When this blog was posted, the U.S. Copyright Office had yet to issue a statement in response to the Public Knowledge report.

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