The Library of Congress is seeking public input on abilities and priorities desired for the next Register of Copyrights, who heads the Copyright Office, a department within the Library of Congress. The deadline for comments as I write this is March 20, though I’m currently having trouble getting the form to accept my input, and operations at the Library, like many other places, are in flux due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Below I reproduce the main portion of the comments I’m hoping to get in before the deadline, in the hope that they will be useful for both them and others interested in copyright. I’ve added a few hyperlinks for context.
At root, the Register of Copyrights needs to do the job the position title implies: Build and maintain an effective copyright registry.
A well designed, up-to-date digital registry should make it easy for rightsholders to register, and for the public to use registration information. Using today’s copyright registry involves outdated, cumbersome, and costly technologies and practices. Much copyright data is not online, and the usability of what is online is limited.
The Library of Congress is now redesigning its catalogs for linked data and modern interfaces. Its Copyright Office thus also has an opportunity to build a modern copyright registry linked to Library databases and to the world, with compatible linked data technologies, robust APIs, and free open bulk downloads. The Copyright Office’s registry and the Library of Congress’s bibliographic and authority knowledge bases could share data, using global identifiers to name and describe entities they both cover, including publications, works, creators, rightsholders, publishers, serials and other aggregations, registrations, relationships, and transactions.
The Copyright Office need not convert wholesale to BIBFRAME, or to other Library-specific systems. It simply needs to create and support identifiers for semantic entities described in the registry (“things, not strings“), associate data with them, and exchange data in standard formats with the Library of Congress catalog and other knowledge bases. As a comprehensive US registry for creative works of all types, the Copyright Office is uniquely positioned to manage such data.
The Deep Backfile project at the University of Pennsylvania (which I maintain) provides one example of uses that can be made of linked copyright data. At
is a page showing selected copyrights associated with Collier’s Magazine (1888-1957). It links to online copies of public domain issues, contents and descriptive information from external sources like FictionMags, Wikidata, and Wikipedia, and rights contact information for some of its authors. The information shown has no rights restrictions, and can be used by humans and machines. JSON files, and the entire Deep Backfile knowledge base, are available from this page and from Github.
It is not the Copyright Office’s job to produce applications like these. But it can provide data that powers them. Much of our Deep Backfile data was copied manually from scanned Catalog of Copyright Entries pages, and from online catalogs lacking easily exported or linked data. The Copyright Office and the Library of Congress could instead produce such data natively (first prospectively, eventually retrospectively). In the process, they could also cross-pollinate each other’s knowledge bases.
To implement this vision, the Register needs to understand library standards and linked open data technologies, gather and manage a skilled implementation team, and be sufficiently persuasive, trusted, and organized to bring stakeholders together inside and outside the Copyright Office and the Library of Congress to support and fund a new system’s development. If explained and implemented well, a registry of the sort described here could greatly benefit copyright holders and copyright users alike.
The Register of Copyrights should also know copyright law thoroughly, implement sensible regulations required by copyright law and policy, and be a trusted and inclusive expert that rightsholders, users, and policymakers can consult. I expect other commenters to go into more detail about these skills, which are also useful in building a trustworthy registry of the sort I describe. But the Copyright Office is long overdue to be led by a Register who can revitalize its defining purpose: Register copyrights, in up-to-date, scalable, and flexible ways that encourage wide use of the creations they cover, and thus promote the progress of science and useful arts.
Update, March 20: As of the late afternoon on the day of the deadline, the form appears to be still rejecting my submission, without a clear error message. It did, however, accept a very short submission without any attachment, and with a URL pointing here. So below I include the rest of my intended comment, listing 3 top priorities. (The essay above was for the longer comment asked for about knowledge, skills, and abilities.) These priorities largely restate in summary form what I wrote above.
If anyone else reading this was unable to post their full comment by the deadline due to technical difficulties, you can try emailing something to me (or leaving a comment to this post) and posting a simple comment to that effect on the LC site, and I’ll do my best to get your full comment posted on this blog.
- Priority #1: Make copyright registration data easy to use: Data should be easy to search, consult, and analyze, individually and in bulk, by people and machines, linked with the Library of Congress’s rich bibliographic data, facilitating verification of copyright ownership, licensing from rightsholders, and cataloging and analysis by libraries, publishers, vendors, and researchers.
Priority #2: Make effective copyright registration easy to do: Ensure copyright registration is simple, inexpensive, supports a variety of electronic and physical deposits, and where possible supports persistent, addressible identifiers and accompanying data for semantic entities described in registrations, and their relationships.
Priority #3: Be a trusted, inclusive resource for understanding copyright and its uses: Creators, publishers, consumers, and policymakers all are concerned with copyright, and with possible reforms. The Register should help all understand their rights, and provide expert and impartial advice and mediation for diverse copyright stakeholders and policymaking priorities.
- Other factors: The Register of Copyrights should also be capable of creating, implementing, and keeping up to date appropriate regulations and practices required or implied by Congressional statutes.
(For the “additional comments” attachment, I had a static PDF attachment showing the Collier’s web page linked from my main essay, as it was on March 19.)