"We're nothing to be afraid of," chuckled David Carson, General Counsel of the U.S. Copyright Office, during RAIN Summit West 2012. Carson was interviewed on-stage by industry attorney and Davis Wright Tremaine partner David Oxenford. "Are you to be feared?" Oxenford had asked, on behalf of the webcasters and broadcasters in the audience.
Carson insisted the answer is "no." In fact, he said the Copyright Office has "hardly anything to do with" what is perhaps the biggest copyright-related sore spot among webcasters: setting royalty rates. That job is mainly handled by the Copyright Royalty Board.
However, Carson (pictured) did explain that the Copyright Office can review the CRB's decisions for "legal error," and any corrections can become legal precedents in the future. The CRB can also consult the Copyright Office about legal questions, and the Copyright Office makes recommendations about who should serve as a judge on the CRB.
In fact, Carson was part of a panel that just recently recommended the new CRB judge, Suzanne Barnett (RAIN coverage here).
The Copyright Office does take stances on copyright issues, though, and makes recommendations to Congress. One such issue -- "the most glaring," in Caron's opinion -- is the broadcast radio performance royalty. Carson said that since before 1978, the Copyright Office has "taken the position that sound recordings should be entitled to a performance royalty just like musical compositions are... We are one of the few countries on earth that doesn't actually provide a performance royalty for sound recordings [played on AM/FM broadcast radio]." (Internet and satellite radio in the U.S. do pay performance royalties.)
To the Copyright Office, explained Carson, broadcast radio's performance royalty exemption "seems sort of bizarre" and "strange."
Oxenford questioned Carson about whether the Copyright Office has, or should, consult broadcasters about that stance. "That's what Congress does," answered Carson. "We advise Congress." And while sometimes Congress requests the Copyright Office to conduct studies and discuss the matter with stakeholders, more commonly "we're actually directed not to talk to stakeholders. 'We want your expert advice,' [instructs Congress]... and as often as not they thank us for our recommendations and then go off and do something else."
All that said, "we can expect no copyright legislation this year," predicted Carson, thanks in part to the election.
Carson also discussed the situation on pre-1972 sound recordings, and offered his thoughts on the recent SOPA debacle (when "suddenly politics wasn't played by the usual rules").
You can watch the entire interview with David Carson thanks to RTTNews here.