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15 Year Anniversary: An Interview with CEO Keith Kupferschmid (Copyright Alliance)

June 1, 2022

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During the month of May, the Copyright Alliance celebrated its 15th anniversary. To mark the occasion, we asked our CEO Keith Kupferschmid to share his thoughts on this milestone. Check out what he has to say as he reflects on what the Copyright Alliance has accomplished, what it is still working on, and why copyright law and creator advocacy are so important.

What has changed for the Copyright Alliance during the past decade and a half?

During the last 15 years, the Copyright Alliance has grown tremendously in many different areas. Over the years, we have grown to represent the copyright interests of more than 13,000 different organizations and close to 2 million individual creators. These organizations and individuals are extremely active and engaged—which isn’t surprising given that the copyright issues we undertake on their behalf are crucial to the success of their creations, businesses, careers, and livelihoods.

As our membership has grown, not surprisingly, so too has the breadth and diversity of the creators and copyright owners we represent and the issues we actively monitor and engage with. When people think about copyright they often think of movies, music, books, and video games. But copyright protects more than just these works. We represent a much broader range of creators and copyright owners that includes those who create and own copyrighted works like newspapers and magazines, software, databases, fashion, sports broadcasts, and codes and standards.

To keep up with the increase in membership and the scope and diversity of issues we routinely take on, the Copyright Alliance staff has also grown during this time. When the Copyright Alliance first launched, the staff was comprised solely of the Executive Director. What was formerly the Executive Director role has since been replaced with a Chief Executive Officer, and a number of other additions have been made to the Copyright Alliance team. We have grown from having no copyright attorneys on staff when we first launched to now employing three copyright counsels, who lend their expertise and liaise with elected officials and their staff, our members and partner organizations, federal agencies like the U.S Copyright Office, and so many others. To keep pace with our overall expansion, we now have a full time Director of Operations who keeps everything on track and ensures that our organization is operating efficiently and effectively to meet the needs of our staff as well as our membership. Our communications team has also grown during this time. Their work has dramatically increased our online presence, as evidenced from our growing social media presence, which now numbers nearly 50,000 unique followers, and the increased traffic and new visitors to our website. Increasingly, people are recognizing the Copyright Alliance as the one-stop-shop for any copyright questions or issues that might arise.

How does it feel to lead an organization that turns 15 years old this month?

I am the third person to lead the Copyright Alliance (second as CEO) and am closing in on my seventh full year with the organization. Honestly, the time has really flown by. It’s been lots of fun and very interesting. I’ve been very fortunate to work with a great team here that is dedicated and enthusiastic about their jobs and achieving the Copyright Alliance’s mission of promoting the value of copyright and creator rights. I have also been blessed to work for wonderful members who are incredibly supportive of the Copyright Alliance and its mission and extremely knowledgeable about copyright, and willing to work collegially with one another and with other stakeholders toward improving the U.S. copyright system. It has been an exciting time to head up the Copyright Alliance and witness first-hand the growth and successes of the organization and how those successes have benefited creators, rights holders, and the public.

What are your biggest priorities these days in terms of creator and policy advocacy?

After SOPA/PIPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act and the PROTECT IP Act) were both introduced and stalled roughly ten years ago, there were many policymakers and rightsholders who questioned whether good copyright legislation could ever get passed again. Over the past several years, the Copyright Alliance and the entire copyright community have successfully demonstrated that those concerns were unwarranted. We’ve recently seen ground-breaking improvements made to copyright law in legislation such as the Hatch-Goodlatte Music Modernization Act (MMA), the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act (CASE Act), and Protecting Lawful Streaming Act (PLSA). Enactment of these important pieces of legislation was only possible because, with the help of the Copyright Alliance, the copyright community was able to put aside differences to work together in support of the goal of getting legislation enacted. Of course, none of this legislation would be possible without strong supporters in both the House and Senate, who understand the importance of copyright and the harms caused by piracy. In some instances, passage of these bills was also possible because certain groups on the other side of the copyright equation opted to work with rights holders and policymakers to address their concerns with aspects of the legislation in a meaningful way that works for all stakeholders—evidence that robust engagement on crucial issues can indeed lead to productive results.

While the MMA, CASE Act, and PLSA were significant accomplishments, our work is far from done. There’s a host of important copyright issues that are priorities for the Copyright Alliance and our members, such as:

  • Piracy remains a big problem. One of the most frustrating problems for copyright owners is the inability to enforce their rights against foreign-based, large scale piracy operations responsible for massive infringement. Jurisdictional roadblocks make holding these criminal operations accountable incredibly difficult, and interrupting access to their websites and services has proven nearly impossible. We need better laws to help combat these flagrant violations by foreign entities who are out to exploit and harm U.S. users and creators.
  • Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is almost a quarter century old and is really showing its age. The Senate DMCA hearings and the U.S. Copyright Office Section 512 Report clearly demonstrated that section 512 is not nearly as effective as it could or should be and that it needs to be updated. Congress included provisions in the DMCA relating to the use of technical measures to protect copyrighted works from infringement that have never been used. No law is passed so it can merely sit on the shelf collecting dust. It is not unreasonable to ask Congress to give a much-needed face lift to a 25-year-old law to keep up with the times or to ask giant platforms to use their vast technological expertise to help creators reduce piracy taking place on their sites.
  • The U.S. Copyright Office’s registration and recordation system has needed to be overhauled and modernized for a long time. Thankfully, the Office has begun the arduous process of modernizing its infrastructure and we are now beginning to see the results of its hard work. But it’s not just the technology side of the Copyright Office system that needs to be updated. The laws and regulations governing registration and recordation also need to be modernized so that the Office has the flexibility to revise the registration and recordation system to account for new technologies, new approaches to creativity, and new business models. Given the dynamic characteristics of the copyright ecosystem, it’s essential that the Copyright Office be able to rapidly adapt to provide services that effectively take into account these changes.
  • While most copyright owners enjoy the exclusive right to perform their works in public, sound recording copyright owners do not. Currently, the United States is one of the few countries in the world that does not recognize a full public performance right for sound recording owners. The time has come for U.S. copyright law to recognize an effective public performance right for sound recordings and I am confident that this can be accomplished in a way that addresses concerns of other stakeholders.

These are just a few of the Copyright Alliance’s priorities.

What motivates you to advocate on behalf of creators every day?

I consider it an honor and a privilege to be working on behalf of the approximately 2 million million individual creators whose copyright interests we represent. As someone who is not terribly creative myself, I am in awe of those artists, authors, songwriters, photographers, coders, filmmakers, and so many other creators who devote their lives and careers to the creation of new copyrighted works for the public to enjoy. 

I am immensely impressed by the talent these individual creators possess. But what strikes me most about the creators we represent is how incredibly passionate they are about their creativity. What shines through is how much they enjoy creating new things; how much energy, time, focus, and money they have devoted to their craft; and how rightfully upset they get when their works are stolen while platforms, anti-copyright groups, and certain policymakers and users turn a blind eye to (or worse, profit from) their plight. While these creators may be more concentrated in certain cities, like New York, Nashville, Austin, Los Angeles, Portland, and Silicon Valley, in truth, creators are scattered throughout this great country. Just about everyone has a family member or neighbor who has tried to make a career from their creativity.

Unfortunately, individual creators don’t have teams of lawyers who can help them understand copyright law or pursue those who steal from them. They often can’t afford to hire third parties to search for online infringements and, even when they do discover infringements themselves, they usually lack the resources or expertise to bring infringers to federal court. It is truly heartrending to hear their stories of being ripped off simply because some behemoth platform couldn’t care less about them or because someone who steals their work thinks exposure is the same as compensation (even though we all know exposure doesn’t pay the bills).

That is why the Copyright Alliance is so important. The Copyright Alliance provides much-needed educational resources to individual creators. (For example, check out our website’s Resources page or our Education page to find a host of educational and other helpful materials about copyright for individual creators).

The Copyright Alliance also provides a home for creators to discuss amongst themselves and to share their successes and failures, so they know they are not in this alone and that there are millions of creators going through the same struggles that they are. With the help of the Copyright Alliance’s guidance and expertise, we encourage creators to join together to advocate for new or improved laws that will help better protect them and their works. It is this type of advocacy and unity that led to passage of the CASE Act, which created a small claims court so that individual creators who cannot afford to bring infringers to federal court will be able to enforce their rights against infringers.

There are a few astroturf organizations that claim to represent creators. In reality, these groups are just exploiting people to support their anti-copyright agendas. At the Copyright Alliance we put our money where our mouth is. We do not just advocate on behalf of individual creators; we also try to support them in their endeavors. In addition to the efforts described above, we are constantly looking for new ways to help educate and assist individual creators. In fact, we have two new programs aimed at helping creators enforce and register their rights. One program is directed at helping individual creators and small businesses bring cases before the new Copyright Claims Board that will go live sometime over the next several weeks. The other program is intended to introduce and help Black, Indigenous, and People of Color better understand and avail themselves of the copyright system. I am excited to be able to formally announce these two programs sometime soon.

Any predictions for the future in terms of where things are heading over the next 15 years?

What makes working at the Copyright Alliance so interesting is that you really never know what new and interesting issues may arise in the future. But that also makes it very difficult to make any predictions about what the future has in store for the Copyright Alliance over the next 15 years. For example, a few years ago, who would have thought that non-fungible tokens (NFTs) would have been something we’d have to consider?

I’d like to think that, in the future, platforms will be less hospitable environments for infringement and that they will be held accountable for their lack of action against infringements on their sites, that pirate sites emanating from outside the United States won’t be able to continue to prey on innocent users or harm copyright holders, that the U.S. Copyright Office will be fully modernized, and that there will be a greater respect for the value and importance of copyright. But those are more hopes than predictions.

In terms of predictions, it’s pretty clear that over the next several years we will have to determine how copyright law applies to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the impact AI may have on the operation of copyright law. As a professor recently told me, if we don’t figure it out ourselves, AI will end up doing it for us.

The copyright community has been laser focused on the misbehaviors of big platforms for years. But there wasn’t an appetite by lawmakers to reign in these platforms and hold them accountable. That seems to be changing. There is a groundswell of concern from citizens and policymakers that these platforms are too powerful and potentially dangerous. Maybe this will lead to real change in how big platforms respond to the copyright abuses routinely taking place on their sites. Maybe they can use their technological prowess to implement technologies to protect copyright owners against infringements on their sites, no matter how big or small they may be and no matter the type of copyrighted work being infringed.

I don’t know if any of these predictions will ultimately come true. The only prediction I can guarantee is that the next 15 years will be as interesting and as challenging as the past 15 years.

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