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Senate Committee Requests Copyright Policy Review (An Opening for Agency Copyright?)


Greetings from D.C.  Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) joined together recently “to request the Copyright Office undertake a comprehensive study of the role copyright law plays in defining how software-enabled products can be used.”  In their request letter to Maria Pallante, Register of Copyrights, they indicate that they are requesting the study “in an effort to better understand and evaluate how our copyright laws enable creative expression, foster innovative business models, and allow legitimate uses in this software-enabled environment.”

The senators note how digital technologies have “revolutionized our world” and how our intellectual property (IP) laws have helped “to enable these developments, promoting creativity and innovation, as well as dissemination of, and consumer access to, creative works.”  Further, they acknowledge that one of the results of recent technological developments is that copyrighted software is now ubiquitous and “essential to the operation of our refrigerators, our cars, our farm equipment, our wireless phones, and virtually any other device you can think of.”

They go on to point out that this is “a complex field, and how we interact with software in our products touches on numerous important policy arenas, including intellectual property, privacy, consumer protection, public safety, cybersecurity, competition, and the evolution of the digital marketplace.  Our laws should work together to promote the public interest in each of these areas, including the interests of consumers, creators, and technology companies wishing to engage in lawful behavior.”

To help them make informed policy decisions in this increasingly complicated field, they have asked that the study focus on the following questions:

  • The provisions of the copyright law that are implicated by the ubiquity of copyrighted software in everyday products
  • Whether, and to what extent, the design, distribution, and legitimate uses of products are being enabled and/or frustrated by the application of existing copyright law to software in everyday products
  • Whether, and to what extent, innovative services are being enabled and/or frustrated by the application of existing copyright law to software in everyday products
  • Whether, and to what extent, legitimate interests or business models for copyright owners and users could be undermined or improved by changes to the copyright law in this area
  • Identify key issues in how the copyright law intersects with other areas of law in establishing how products that rely on software to function can be lawfully used.

But here is the main reason I include this topic in my column.  They also state:

This list of topics is not exhaustive.  Please examine any other topic that the Office determines is relevant to our inquiry.  To the extent that the Office believes legislative, or other, changes are necessary, please make appropriate recommendations.  In performing this review, we request that the Office seek public input, including from interested industry stakeholders, consumer advocacy groups, and relevant federal agencies." (my emphasis)

While the issue of federal agency copyright is not in the letter, the senators have clearly given the Copyright Office leave to expand its study to include any other issues it deems relevant to the overarching topic.  Perhaps this is an opportunity for federal agencies to be heard on the topic of agency copyright, particularly as pertains to software (and consequently, federal lab tech transfer).

The letter to the Register of Copyrights can be found here.

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