Major Changes to U.S. Copyright Office May Delay Updating Copyright Law, Says Professional Photographers of America (PPA)

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PPA Vows to Continue Moving Forward with Legislative Changes Aimed at Modernizing Copyright Office.

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Passing a small claims bill will continue to be our number one priority on The Hill.

The U.S. Copyright Office, positioned within the Library of Congress, suffered a potential setback to its goals for modernization and reform this week as its Register of Copyrights and long-time advocate, Maria Pallante, was removed from her job on October 21st, 2016. The newly appointed Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden, has appointed Karyn Temple Claggett, currently Associate Register of Copyrights, as the acting Register while the search for a new Register of Copyrights is underway. Before her removal, Pallante had been an ally in PPA’s effort to secure a small claims process for copyright infringements.    

The news comes as a shock to content creators (photographers, authors, songwriters, graphic designers, etc.) who make up the U.S. copyright-protected community, and to members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees who are tasked with conducting the comprehensive review of current copyright law. Pallante was an advocate for the introduction of a small claims copyright option, which would allow better copyright enforcement for all content creators. She was also pushing for the modernization of the U.S. Copyright Office, moving it out from under the jurisdiction of the Library of Congress. A stand-alone U.S. Copyright Office would closely pattern the model used for the Patent and Trademark Office.

“We were all certainly surprised by what appeared to be a very aggressive move on the part of the Librarian of Congress,” said PPA CEO David Trust. “We already have a meeting set with Dr. Hayden where we will discuss our concerns, and try to get a better understanding about how this change might affect the movement to create a small claims process. We look forward to developing a productive relationship with Dr. Hayden and the next Register of Copyrights.”

For more than ten years, Professional Photographers of America (PPA) has been working on Capitol Hill, explaining the critical need for a small claims enforcement option for mom-and-pop creators.

“That won’t change,” says Trust. “Photographers and other visual artists have always been treated inequitably under the current copyright system. Passing a small claims bill will continue to be our number one priority on The Hill. And we are going to need the help of every member – every visual artist.”

Last summer, PPA started a Copyright Grassroots Action Team to provide a structure to mobilize its 30,000 photographer members and the creative community at large. Currently 7,500 members strong, this group of professional photographers and visual artists is growing, as all understand the need for broader copyright defense options in the U.S.

The copyright small claims option sought by PPA is meant to protect content creators such as photographers and visual artists. The cost and burden of seeking damages in the only existing venue for copyright infringement claims—federal district court—is prohibitive and leaves most artists no way to enforce their rights. A small claims process within the U.S. Copyright Office would provide a fair, cost-effective and streamlined venue where artists could seek remedies for unauthorized uses of their work.

PPA believes the inability of photographers, and other low-value, high-volume content creators, to pursue a case against an infringer of their work is an injustice that demands to be fixed. For example, unless a case will yield a potential judgment of $100,000 or more ($30,000 at the bare minimum) it is usually a non-starter for intellectual property lawyers. Under the current framework, there is very little recourse for an artist who has their stolen work valued at a few thousand dollars or less. A small claims option within the Copyright Office would remedy that. PPA is certain this is a non-controversial and bi-partisan issue everyone can agree on.

For updates on the latest news as it unfolds, and to add support to the growing number of small claims-supporters, head to PPA.com/Advocacy.

About PPA:
Professional Photographers of America (PPA) is the largest international non-profit association created by professional photographers, for professional photographers. Almost as long-lived as photography itself, PPA's roots date back to 1869. It assists nearly 30,000 members through protection, education and resources for their continued and sustainable success. See how PPA helps photographers be more at PPA.com/BeMore.

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James Yates

Jef Tingley
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