“Tillis said in his letter that he ‘intend[s] to move quickly to legislatively modernize’ the Office, but that he is ‘troubled’ by the projected timings to meet the desired goals.”
Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) sent a letter to Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden and Register of Copyrights Karyn Temple on Tuesday, August 27, asking that they help him to “speed up the modernization process” for the U.S. Copyright Office. Tillis posed seven pointed questions to Hayden and Temple, which in part implied that their agencies’ reliance on legacy contractors and internal staff to implement the pending IT updates could be the source of proposed timelines that Tillis characterized as “unnecessarily long in the age of agile IT.”
Copyright Office Concerns
In July, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, which Tillis chairs, heard from Temple about the Office’s efforts to modernize its information technology infrastructure and business processes. Temple, who was the first Register of Copyrights to appear before Congress in a decade told the Subcommittee that the recently created Copyright Modernization Office now has 25 employees dedicated to more than a dozen modernization activities and that her focus has been on modernizing registration procedures to reduce average pendency times by 40% within the last two years and completely eliminate the backlog of workable claims. She also said that long-term planning for IT and other infrastructure upgrades could be improved if Congress gave the Copyright Office authority to use unobligated fee balances from previous budget cycles, which would require new statutory language. Temple expanded on these points in her response to a series of questions for the record posed by Tillis and other senators.
Tillis said in his letter that he “intend[s] to move quickly to legislatively modernize” the Office, but that he is “troubled” by the projected timings to meet the desired goals. These include implementing a new Copyright Enterprise System, updating the public recordation system, and modernizing the registration system. The recordation phase of the program is projected to begin in Q4 of 2019 and be completed in 2023—a timeline Tillis said seems overly long based on input from IT experts. In light of his concerns, Tillis asked that Hayden and Temple respond to his seven questions by September 30.
A Need for More Speed
Tillis’ question are focused chiefly on the agencies’ approaches to development and processes for hiring contractors. In question six, Tillis indicates that IT experts have informed him that a pilot program to modernize the registration system could be implemented in 8-12 weeks. “Under this more advanced approach to modernization, the Copyright Office would have real-time data about what was working and what needs to be tweaked within weeks, not months or years,” Tillis wrote.
His other questions indicate a concern that part of the reason the Office is not considering such options maybe that it has refrained from fully opening up bids for outside help beyond existing contractors. In question four, Tillis said: “I believe a more competitive process in the future for accelerated development of the new systems will be necessary to achieve the dual goals of modernization and improved customer service.”
Just prior to the oversight hearing in July, Tillis published an op-ed with IPWatchdog in which he said that “Congress has fallen behind in one crucial aspect of the copyright system: ensuring that the American people have a nimble, state-of-the-art, and efficient Copyright Office at their service.” He added that, despite many years of debate, the Office “remains woefully underfunded and antiquated” and “no longer effectively serves the needs of the United States.”
Tillis also cited statistics from the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) 2018 report, Copyright Industries in the U.S. Economy, which he said found that “copyright intensive industries contribute $1.3 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product, representing almost 7% of the entire economy. These industries also employ close to 5.7 million American workers with an annual average salary of almost $100,000.”
According to the Copyright Office’s data on current processing times, it takes 1 – 7 months to receive a response on registration for electronically-processed claims with no correspondence involved; 1 – 18 months for claims received via regular mail with no correspondence; 1 – 15 months for electronically processed claims that do involve correspondence; and 1-24 months for mail claims with correspondence.