Perlmutter addresses copyright issues at first House oversight hearing

(Reuters) - U.S. Copyright Office director Shira Perlmutter told the House Committee on the Judiciary on Wednesday that she agreed with an office report from before her tenure finding that part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act had become “unbalanced” and “out of sync with Congress’ original intent.”

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Perlmutter also outlined the office’s priorities and addressed representatives’ concerns about other aspects of the copyright system during the oversight hearing, including resale rights for artists and the forthcoming Copyright Claims Board.

The hearing was Perlmutter’s first since being appointed Register of Copyrights by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden in September. She was previously the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s chief policy officer and director for international affairs, and has also worked as a vice president and associate general counsel at Time Warner Inc and as the Copyright Office’s associate register of copyrights for policy and international affairs.

Perlmutter began her testimony Wednesday by noting the office’s progress in implementing the Music Modernization Act – which among other things will simplify licensing and collecting royalties from streaming music services – modernizing the office’s technology, and preparing to launch the Copyright Claims Board, the office’s small-claims tribunal scheduled to begin operations in December.

Perlmutter told Representative Steve Chabot, a Republican from Ohio, that she was “optimistic” that the CCB would begin operations by Congress’ Dec. 27 deadline.

She also said the office’s future priorities included continuing to modernize, opening the copyright system to more participants – focusing on underserved communities – and hiring a chief economist.

In response to a question from Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York, Perlmutter said she agreed with a Copyright Office report from May 2020 that concluded Section 512 of the DMCA, which covers the notice-and-takedown process by which internet service providers address copyright owners’ claims of infringement on their platforms, should be “fine-tuned” to “better balance the rights and responsibilities of online service providers and rightsholders in the creative industries.”

Perlmutter noted that she worked at the Copyright Office while the DMCA was being considered, and that the law’s original goal was to balance copyright owners’ rights with service providers’ ability to “offer innovative platforms without facing crippling liability for the actions of all of their users.”

But enforcement today is difficult for copyright owners because of the “whack-a-mole” problem of immediately reposted infringing content, Perlmutter said, and ISPs and consumer groups have concerns about the potential abuse of notice-and-takedown systems and threats to free speech interests.

“So I do think there is room for adjustment” from Congress, Perlmutter said.

Perlmutter also expressed support for Nadler’s proposal to grant visual artists resale royalty rights in their work in some circumstances, saying there were “very good policy arguments to adopt such a right,” and that around 70 other countries have a similar right. Nadler has previously introduced the proposal as the American Royalties Too (ART) Act.

Several Republican representatives lamented that the first full-committee hearing since January focused on copyrights instead of immigration concerns at the U.S.-Mexico border, among other things.