By GAIL FINEBERG
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington on Jan. 11 swore in three copyright royalty judges, who will oversee the copyright law's statutory licenses, setting rates and determining the distribution of royalties.
The judges were appointed in accordance with the Copyright Royalty and Distribution Reform Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-419), which established a new system for determining the rates and terms for statutory copyright licenses and for determining the distribution of funds in the copyright royalty pools that are administered by the Library. This new law, which took effect on May 31, 2005, replaced Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panels with the Copyright Royalty Board comprising three judges.
Copyright Royalty Board
In his welcoming remarks, the Librarian said, "It is particularly appropriate that the Copyright Royalty Board is a part of the Library of Congress. The Library has had a long tradition, for more than a century and a quarter now, of administering the copyright law. It's largely thanks to the deposits that we have received through copyright registration and the mandatory deposit provision of the copyright law that the great collections of the Library have come into being."
The Librarian continued, "Indeed, we like to say that the Library is really two things. It is the largest collection anywhere of the world's knowledge, but it is also, thanks largely to copyright deposits, the mint record, or as close to the mint record that we have in this country, of the nation's private-sector creativity. It is a great rarity: No other government has preserved private-sector creativity as fully as the American government, and it is remarkable that it has been done within the legislative branch of government."
"Beyond that," he added, "the copyright law is fundamentally a law about culture, and the Library is one of the nation's preeminent cultural institutions."
The Librarian discussed briefly the origins of U.S. copyright law. "The Constitution authorizes Congress to grant authors exclusive rights in order, in the words of the framers, 'to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.' That requires a balancing of the interests of authors and of the public in a way that gives authors sufficient incentives to create and disseminate works of authorship—literature, music, dramatic works, motion pictures and all forms of creative expression—for the benefit of the public."
Billington said no institution on earth reveres authors more highly than the Library, whose mission is to preserve their creative works and make them available and useful to Congress and the American people, now and for future generations.
He explained the role of statutory licenses in carrying out the constitutional purpose of copyright and of the Copyright Royalty Board: "[Laws requiring licenses] have been enacted in recognition that, in certain cases, a regime based purely on the exclusive rights of the author impedes the ability to disseminate works of authorship to the public and to compensate the author for that dissemination. As a result, Congress has determined that under certain very specific circumstances, statutory licensees such as cable television systems, satellite television carriers, public broadcasting entities and others should be permitted to disseminate works in particular ways without seeking the permission of the copyright owner. Among the conditions is the payment of royalties that are determined either by negotiations among groups of copyright owners and licensees or, if agreement cannot be reached, by a governmental body. The Copyright Royalty Board is now that body."
Three New Judges
Register of Copyrights Marybeth Peters, whom the Librarian acknowledged for her "extraordinary tenure and enormous accomplishments in this field," thanked Bruce Forrest, who had served as interim chief copyright judge until Jan. 6. She then introduced the three judges, whom she said were selected from a pool of highly qualified applicants.
James S. Sledge will serve a six-year term as chief copyright royalty judge. In addition to having served as a U.S. bankruptcy judge from the Northern District of Alabama, he was chairman of the Judicial Division of the American Bar Association, the largest judges' organization in the world, and chairman of the National Conference of Federal Trial Judges. He served for 12 years (for two years as chairman) on the Alabama State Council on the Arts, as a director of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, as an Alabama advocacy captain for Americans for the Arts and, representing Alabama, as a director of the regional Southern Arts Federation.
Stanley C. Wisniewski will serve four years as a copyright royalty judge with expertise in economics. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from Catholic University of America and a law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law. As a practicing attorney, Wisniewski has represented a variety of clients in litigation, arbitration and administrative proceedings. He has provided expert economic testimony in federal courts, before private arbitration panels and before U.S. Senate and House committees. For more than 20 years, he was on the American Arbitration Association's list of commercial arbitrators dealing with contract disputes in matters of employment contract terms, partnership agreements, franchise arrangements and government contracts with concessionaires.
William J. Roberts will serve two years as a copyright royalty judge with expertise in copyright law. A graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, he joined the Copyright Office in 1987, was attorney adviser in the Copyright General Counsel's Office and was promoted to senior attorney for compulsory licenses shortly after Congress abolished the Copyright Royalty Tribunal and replaced it with the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel. He was a Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel attorney for the entire 12-year history of the panel. Since the inception of the Copyright Royalty Board, Roberts has served as interim senior attorney. He is an adjunct faculty member at the George Mason University School of Law for which he teaches copyright law.
Gail Fineberg is editor of The Gazette, the Library's staff newsletter.