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Copyright Office Submits Letter to Congress on Copyright Issues for Visual Artists

On January 18, the Copyright Office submitted a letter to the House and Senate Judiciary Committee Leaderships focusing on the concerns visual artists have with the copyright system. Titled “Copyright and Visual Works: The Legal Landscape of Opportunities and Challenges,” the letter summarizes the findings of the Office based on their 2015 inquiry, Copyright Protection for Certain Visual Works, and subsequent discussions with visual artists. The letter presented the challenges faced by visual artists in three key areas: copyright registration, licensing and monetizing, and enforcement of copyrights.

Registration:

The letter relates concerns that the registration system is costly for high volume creators, such as photographers and graphic artists. It points out that the eCO online registration system is time consuming, complicated, limited, and counterintuitive. The letter also notes visual artists have recommended the incorporation of APIs which will integrate the registration system into workflows; a number of these issues are being addressed through the Office’s modernization efforts. The Office also stated that it will continue to look for new group registration options. Lastly, the Office described the confusion that exists in trying to determine the publication status of a work, particularly in light of the “lack of statutory or legal clarity” in an online environment, and stated its intent to issue a Notice of Inquiry on issues related to online publication.

Licensing:

The Office described the difficulty visual artists face with licensing in an online environment, in which infringement is rampant and works are difficult to track as identifying metadata is stripped by third parties. While the letter continued to support legislative solutions to the problem of orphan works –solutions which many visual artist advocates have found problematic – the Office also stated that modernization of the Office will improve the public record, making it easier for potential licensors to connect with copyright holders and helping alleviate the issue of orphan works.

Enforcement:

The Office cites two key enforcement challenges: issues with online infringement and new technologies, and the high cost of enforcement. The letter describes the issue visual artists have with unauthorized copying, framing, and embedding, pointing out that a misunderstanding of copyright and the ease of right-click copying have left rights holders with little recourse. In light of how frequently metadata and copyright management information (CMI) is stripped from work, the Office states that it is reviewing issues regarding CMI. The letter also acknowledged the high cost of infringement, citing the Guild’s 2012 survey in which 44.9% of creators reported legal costs deterred them from pursuing a copyright infringement lawsuit. The Copyright Office asserted its strong support of a small copyright claims tribunal to help allay the legal costs of pursuing a copyright infringement lawsuit.



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