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Copyright Office Needs More Tech and Data Experts

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To keep pace with the demands of the digital age, the U.S. Copyright Office needs fewer file clerks and more techies, Maria Pallante, the office's director, told lawmakers Wednesday.

“It used to be catalogers, now it needs to be technology and data [experts],” Pallante described the agency’s hiring needs. “I don’t know how we can administer the law without it.”

Every year, the Copyright Office's staff examines and register hundreds of thousands of copyright claims submitted by book authors, music artists, software manufacturers and other creators of intellectual property. 

The office needs to restructure its workforce, Pallante told members of the Committee on House Administration during a hearing on the office’s tech plans. The office would like to eventually “morph” about a third of its staff -- 150 employees -- into tech and data experts, she said.

“These experts should not merely be assigned or on-call from another part of the agency, but rather be integrated into the copyright office mission where they can work side by side with legal and business experts,” she said.

Pallante’s testimony comes just a few months after the public caught a clear glimpse of the Copyright Office’s tech challenges.

In September, the online system used to electronically register copyrights went down for more than a week. The malfunction meant that anyone looking to submit preliminary copyright claims could only do so via the much lengthier paper-based process.

The outage is far from the only problem plaguing the 10-year-old system, known as the electronic Copyright Office, or eCO.

“It was probably outdated by the time it was implemented,” Pallante said during the hearing. ”I’m not a fan of eCO; most people are not.”

But replacing it will not be simple. In fact, because eCO is the software application for certain public-facing services, it would have to be one of the last changes on a long list of office updates, she said.

Those updates were included in the Copyright Office’s 5-year strategic plan, which was released yesterday. It outlined six strategic goals, including “building a robust and flexible technology enterprise dedicated to a modern copyright agency” and recruiting more tech experts.

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