IT troubles plague Federal Copyright Office

GAO says Copyright Office wants $7 million to fund new IT plans but hasn’t justified such an investment

The IT department at the nation’s Copyright Office needs more than a little work.

A report out this week from the watchdogs at the Government Accountability Office points out a number of different technical and management woes that see to start at the top – with the CIO (a position that has a number of problems in its own right) and flows down to the technology, or lack-thereof.

As the nation’s copyright center it is imperative that it operate efficiently to effectively protect all manner of written and recorded material but according to the GAO it doesn’t.

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copyright process

And it is a big job. For example, according to the Copyright Office, which falls organizationally under the Library of Congress, in fiscal year 2014 it registered about 476,000 creative works for copyright, including about 219,000 literary works and 65,000 sound recordings and recorded 7,600 copyright records. In addition in fiscal year 2014 the office collected approximately $315 million in royalties and made disbursements in accordance with the decisions of the Copyright Royalty Board.

But things are not well and even proposed fixes don’t go smoothly. For example according to the GAO:

“The Copyright Office requested over $7 million in fiscal years 2015 and 2016 to address four key challenges: (1) reengineer recordation—one of the office's key business processes—to include developing an online filing capability; (2) develop a secure digital repository for its electronic materials (books and music); (3) develop a software application development environment; and (4) establish a data management team, to include developing data standards. However, the office has not adequately justified these proposed investments. Specifically, it has not identified the business needs they are intended to meet, expected costs, or how they align with the agency's strategic plan, as called for by Library of Congress IT investment management policy. “

Some of the other issues brought up by the GAO:

 IT System: The Copyright Office uses its IT systems to meet important mission requirements that have been established in law. For example, the Copyright Act requires the office to receive and examine copyright registration applications. To meet these mission requirements, the office relies on several mission-related systems, as well as servers, networks, and the data center managed by the Library’s central IT office—[Information Technology Services] ITS. However, [the GAO] and others have identified challenges with this environment. For example, external users have described limitations in the performance and usability of the office’s registration system, and the Copyright Office has expressed concerns about the integrity of the files stored in the Library’s servers.

IT Structure: Organizationally, responsibility for managing the office’s IT environment is shared between the Copyright Office’s Office of the CIO and ITS. However the Library has serious weaknesses in its IT management, which have also hindered the ability of the Library and the Copyright Office to meet mission requirements. For example, the Library has not had a permanent CIO in over 2 years and instead has had a series of temporary CIOs; according to the Register of Copyrights, this has caused a breakdown in communication between Library management and the Copyright Office related to IT.

No Plan? Although the Copyright Office has acknowledged many of the reported organizational and technical challenges [the GAO] have identified previously, the office has not yet developed plans to improve its IT environment. Developing a strategic plan that is aligned with the Library’s forthcoming efforts will help the Copyright Office ensure thatcurrent and future investments aimed at improving its IT will support its mission needs, as well as avoiding duplication with existingactivities within the Library.

Adding future problems: [The Copyright Office] IT environment faces many technical and organizational challenges, which ultimately may affect the office’s ability to meet its legal mission. Copyright’s primary system has had significant technical issues, both with the system itself—managed by the Copyright Office—and with its underlying infrastructure, managed by the Library’s central IT office. Even with all of the identified challenges, however, the office is adding significant new functionality onto this already burdened system, by transferring legacy system functionality onto it. Significant IT management weaknesses of the Library exacerbate the technical issues, making it difficult for the Library and the Copyright Office to address the technical challenges.

In response the GAO report, the Copyright Office’s Register said that the Office must “evolve from a small department of public record to a digitally savvy administrator of intellectual property rights, remedies, and commercial information, which requires the office to evaluate the needs of the national copyright system objectively and transparently. As described in this report, we agree that the Copyright Office has technical and organizational challenges that hinder its ability to meet its statutory and business needs. We further acknowledged that the office has begun to address these needs in its technical upgrades research. However, making progress in addressing these limitations will require a strategic vision as well as effective planning, and our recommendations are aimed at assisting the office in these areas.”

If you want to read the entire report and the Copyright Office Registrar’s responses go here.

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