Congressman Johnson Conducts Oversight of the U.S. Copyright Office

May 6, 2021
Press Release
Congressman questions Shira Perlmutter, Register of Copyrights and Director of the U.S. Copyright Office

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Yesterday, Congressman Hank Johnson (GA-04), chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, conducted oversight of the U.S. Copyright Office during a full Judiciary hearing featuring Shira Perlmutter, Register of Copyrights and Director of the U.S. Copyright Office.

Watch the video HERE.

The following is a transcript of the exchange. 

Mr. Johnson: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding today’s hearing, and welcome Register Perlmutter. I join in congratulating you on your appointment to this very important position at this critical time, especially for creators, as well as other stakeholders in the copyright ecosystem. As Chair of the Intellectual Property Subcommittee, I’m particularly concerned with the runaway rise in online IP infringement. The Office’s report on Section 512, notice-and-takedown, has prompted some important discussions about the future of online enforcement. One common theme that we have heard from stakeholders, and that the Office also mentioned in its report, is that the level of cooperation between online service providers and rights holders, that Congress envisioned, has not come to fruition. Given how much technology has advanced in the last two decades, it’s clear that a consensus-based approach to taking down is not viable for creators. Last fall, the Office convened a series of discussions with stakeholders about standard technical measures. What insights did the Office glean from those discussions, and what is the Office’s view on how Congress should be encouraging progress in developing these measures?

Ms. Perlmutter: Thank you, I think that is a very important discussion. Part of the balance, as you suggest, in the original DMCA was the idea that online service providers would accommodate, and not interfere with, standard technical measures that could be used to protect copyrighted works. Those standard technology measures have never been developed, in fact, in the twenty-something years since then, so our roundtables were intended to explore what such measures might exist, how they might be developed, and how they might be used. We did not hear a lot of, not to overuse the word consensus, we didn’t hear a lot of consensus about how to achieve consensus, but I think there was general openness to the Copyright Office staying involved and assisting and continuing the conversations. I think it’s a valuable route to continue. It may be that, at some point, Congress will need to look at how to define what is a standard technical measure for purposes of dialogue because, for example, it may be that there won’t be standard technical measures that will operate across all areas of copyright creativity, and there needs to be separate rules, or maybe it won’t be possible to achieve a hundred percent consensus. But we do think this is an important and fruitful area to continue work in, and we look forward to working with the Committee.

Mr. Johnson: Thank you. Recent reports, such as the U.S. Trade Representative’s 2020 Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy, showed the devastation of unauthorized streaming of all sources of copyrighted content, both here and abroad. Do you believe that the current copyright laws are robust enough to effectively handle this increasing problem, and if not, what are some of the adjustments you would recommend Congress consider in restoring balance to the system?

Ms. Perlmutter: Well, one very important step was the Protecting Lawful Streaming Act that was passed last year. This issue about having appropriate criminal penalties for unlawful streaming has been something that the Copyright Office has long advocated for, so that was clearly a step in the right direction. We’re monitoring what’s going on with streaming and other types of piracy, both in the United States and abroad, and working within the interagency to talk about what could be done going forward, and we hope to continue to work with Congress as you look at those issues.

Mr. Johnson: Okay, thank you, and I also support your efforts to bring on a Chief Economist and have seen through the USPTO what great value those positions can bring. What will be the Chief Economist’s primary initial priorities, and how will the Chief Economist’s function be supported?

Ms. Perlmutter: The initial priority will really be to develop an appropriate research agenda. I think there are a plethora of issues that would be extremely valuable to have analyzed. One of them will surely be looking at the question about the representation of women and minorities in the copyright system. That’s a role that the Chief Economist at the PTO has played very importantly. In terms of support, we, of course, are going to start relatively small. We’re going to hire just a Chief Economist and have them be supported by the existing staff at the Office, but we also anticipate that the Copyright Office Chief Economist will be able to work closely with the Chief Economist at the PTO, whose remit also includes copyright policy issues, and that they can be force multipliers for each other in the initial stages, and then, as things move on, we will see what additional support might be needed.

Mr. Johnson: Thank you and I yield back.


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