As an IP and privacy lawyer (@ipprivacylawyer), I always find it interesting
when my two usually distinct practice areas converge. Well, today
brought some fascinating news at the intersection of copyright and
privacy that I did not expect to see on my otherwise depressing
This morning, the Copyright Office issued a Final Rule to allow authors and claimants to
replace or remove personally identifiable information from the
Copyright Office's online registration catalog. The new rule
also allows individuals who legally changed their names to have
that change reflected in the Copyright Records. Somewhat
incredibly, that change was adopted based on arguments made by a
transgender rights organization.
Under the current registration system, the Copyright Office
collects PII from copyright registrants and pushes the data into
the Office's online public catalog, eCO. In addition to names, eCO includes
people's postal addresses, email addresses and phone numbers.
Authors and claimants were upset when they learned that web
crawlers were scraping the catalog for their PII, which ended up in
Internet search results. To make matters worse, the Copyright
Office had refused to remove the PII when asked, instead advising
the public that if they didn't want sensitive information to
appear, then they shouldn't provide it. Helpful, I know.
The new rule allows authors and claimants to request the removal
of certain PII from the online catalog only (the offline records
are maintained), and replace it with non-personal information. The
rule also codifies an existing practice that removes
"extraneous" PII that people sometimes provide with their
application, such as driver's license, social security and
credit card numbers.
Under the proposed rule, names were specifically excluded from
the categories of PII that authors and claimants could seek to
remove or modify. The Copyright Office reasoned that names without
more are not really PII, and allowing name changes might cause
confusion regarding copyright terms. The National Center for
Transgender Equality (NCTE) submitted a comment arguing that,
"for transgender individuals, disclosure of a birth name
equals disclosure of transgender status." According to the
NCTE, having a transgender individual's birth name and changed
name appear in the record could threaten that person's
"well-being and personal and professional life," endanger
them, or subject them to ''employment discrimination,
bodily harm and/or worse.''
In the final rule, the Copyright Office stated that it found the
NCTE's argument "compelling" and adopted a provision
proposed by the NCTE, which allows a person to swap in his/her
current legal name as long as the request is "accompanied by
official documentation of the legal name change."
So score one for privacy, choice and the trans community at the
This post first appeared in Frankfurt Kurnit's Focus on
the Data blog
(www.focusonthedata.com). It provides general coverage of its
subject area. We provide it with the understanding that Frankfurt
Kurnit Klein & Selz is not engaged herein in rendering legal
advice, and shall not be liable for any damages resulting from any
error, inaccuracy, or omission. Our attorneys practice law only in
jurisdictions in which they are properly authorized to do so. We do
not seek to represent clients in other jurisdictions.
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