The Limits of Copyright Office Expertise

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The mismatch between the expanding administrative and regulatory obligations of the United States Copyright Office and its limited institutional expertise is an emerging problem for the copyright system. The Office's chief responsibility—registration and recordation of copyright claims—has taken a back seat in recent years to a more ambitious set of substantive rulemakings and policy recommendations. As the triennial rulemaking under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act highlights, the Office is frequently called upon to answer technological questions far beyond its plausible claims of subject matter expertise. This Article traces the Office's history, identifies its substantial but discrete areas of expertise, and reveals the ways in which the Office has overstepped any reasonable definition of its expert knowledge. This Article concludes with a set of recommendations to better align the Office's agenda with its expertise by, first, reducing the current regulatory burdens on the Office, and second, building greater technological and economic competence within the Office, better equipping it to address contemporary questions of copyright policy.


Work published when author not on University of Michigan Faculty.