The US House of Representatives has passed a bill to make the register of copyrights a presidential appointee, instead of a Library of Congress employee. Called the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act (H.R. 1695), the bill passed the House yesterday by a vote of 378 to 48. The bill is intended to give the Register of Copyrights more autonomy and resources to modernize the copyright registration system.

Before the bill can become law, however, the Senate must also pass it, and the President will have to sign it. Under current law, the Register of Copyrights is appointed by—and reports to—the Librarian of Congress, without any direct Congressional oversight.

Photo trade groups are applauding the House vote on H.R. 1695. ASMP praised the vote on its web site, and has said in the past that the bill would “help ensure that the Register of Copyrights has the voice and resources needed to implement policy, manage its operations, and organize its information technology in a way that brings the Copyright Office into the 21st century.”

“So much effort went into this,” David Trust, the CEO of Professional Photographers of America (PPA) said yesterday in a prepared statement, “[T]oday is a day for smiles and congratulations. Tomorrow we start preparing for a much tougher fight in the Senate.”

The copyright registration system is a vital part of copyright protection, because copyright holders must register their copyrights in order to fully protect those rights. But photo trade groups, and trade associations representing other groups of copyright holders, have been frustrated by what they consider to be an onerous and outdated copyright registration process.

Trade associations were also upset last year by the decision of the Librarian of Congress to fire then-Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante. Trade groups considered Pallante a strong advocate for copyright holders.

Under the terms of H.R. 1695, the House, Senate, and Librarian of Congress would recommend to the President at least three individuals qualified to serve as Register of Copyrights. The qualifications include “a professional background and experience in copyright law,” and the ability to identify and supervise “a Chief Information Officer or other similar official responsible for managing modern information technology systems.”

The Register of Copyrights would be appointed for a ten-year term.

The bill does not include other copyright reforms that trade groups have been seeking, such as the establishment of a copyright small claims court. A bill to establish such a court was introduced in the House last year, but failed to pass before the end of the session.

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