Frank Cullen
Former Vice President, U.S. Intellectual Property Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


August 04, 2020


Today, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC) joins the U.S. Copyright Office in celebrating its 150th-anniversary as an essential leader in fostering American creativity and innovation.

The office was established during the wake of the Civil War when Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Spofford lobbied and convinced Congress to unify the copyright registration system in the Library of Congress. Before the establishment, copyright registrations and copies of the works were deposited at the author’s local federal district court. This created at best a piecemeal record of registered works as some copies were never forwarded to the Capitol, and stewardship of those forwarded were often disorganized and derelict.

Spofford saw an opportunity – he dreamed of transforming the Library into a national institution as part of the Reconstruction. And he grasped that the deposit copies authors sent to register their copyrights could be added to the Library’s collection – a boon to its limited resources. Congress went along and, in 1870 – 150 years ago – unified the copyright registration in the Library of Congress.

It didn’t take long for Spofford to be overwhelmed by the task, so in 1897 Congress established the Register of Copyrights office, which we still know today. The first Register of Copyrights was Thorvald Solberg and it didn’t take long for him to become a key advisor to Congress, which undertook a general revision of the Copyright Act in 1909. Since then, the Register and the Copyright Office have conducted studies and reports and worked side-by-side with Congress to keep the Copyright Act effective and up to date.

Those efforts have paid off. According to the U.S. Chamber International IP Index, the United States’ copyright laws rank first in the world. It’s no coincidence that core copyright industries add $1.3 trillion to the U.S. economy and account for over $190 billion in exports, one of the most favorable contributors to our global trade balance.

GIPC appreciates and applauds the Copyright Office’s contribution to this vibrant sector of the American economy. It not only creates jobs but also helps define American culture and promote our values throughout the world.

That work never ends. Even now, Congress is considering updates to the Copyright Act that would close a loophole that allows criminal infringing streaming services to get away with a slap on the wrist and another that would create a small claims process for independent creators to vindicate their rights without the time and expense of a suit in federal court.

The Copyright Office recently issued its report on online piracy and Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, beginning its triennial rulemaking for exceptions to the anti-hacking provisions of Section 1201, also enacted as part of the DMCA. All this amid a global pandemic!

Acting Register Maria Strong has her hands full, but she has done an amazing job! This brings us to one other key point: Dr. Carla Hayden, the current Librarian, is currently selecting a new Register.

As we can see from history, that choice will be important to everyone who interacts with the copyright system.

About the authors

Frank Cullen

Frank Cullen is former Vice President of U.S. Intellectual Property Policy.