The Business of Government Hour

 

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The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The executives discuss their careers and the management challenges facing their organizations. Past government executives include Administrators, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Commissioners, Controllers, Directors, and Undersecretaries.

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Join the IBM Center for a weekly conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.

Marybeth Peters interview

Friday, October 25th, 2002 - 20:00
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Marybeth Peters
Radio show date: 
Sat, 10/26/2002
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Intro text: 
Marybeth Peters
Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Friday, October 8, 2002

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, the co-chairman of The IBM Endowment for The Business of Government. We created The Endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about The Endowment by visiting us at businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our conversation this morning is with Marybeth Peters. She is the Register of Copyrights.

Good morning, Marybeth.

Ms. Peters: Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation is John Lainhart.

Good morning, John.

Mr. Lainhart: Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Marybeth, perhaps you could begin by telling us the history of the Copyright Office and how its mission relates to the Library of Congress.

Ms. Peters: Actually, it's a pretty interesting story. From the Constitution of the United States, which has the basis for copyright protection in it, to the first law that was passed in 1790, there was a feeling that there should be a deposit of a work that was being protected by copyright. And that was to be given to some entity within the United States government, and then there was to be a record of what that work was, and who the author was and who owned it. The deposit provision went to the Department of State in the beginning. The registration requirement went to the courts where you lived.

In the 1860s, the Librarian realized that those deposit copies were not being used. And he had a library that he was trying to build. And he decided that if he took on the copyright system, the deposit function, that that was a great way to build the national library of the United States. And actually, there was a struggle between the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress. And the Library of Congress became the depository, official depository.

He realized that he didn't know what was being published, unless he also had the records to find out who said they owned what. So he said I'll take that, too. So in 1870, the Registration function came to the Library with the deposit function. And so the sole goal for the Librarian was to acquire materials for the people of the United States, to be the archive of material that was published in the United States.

Mr. Lawrence: What gets copyrighted?

Ms. Peters: Anything that's considered a writing of an author. And it's unbelievably broad. It's from a book that an author writes, a song, a choreography, a design of wallpaper, a design for a rug. It's got maps. It's got sound recordings, obviously music and motion pictures. Computer programs. Websites. Unbelievably broad range. If you were to take a tour of our office and see what comes in, you'd be amazed.

So, it's got to be something that an author created and didn't copy from somebody else. And it can't be totally a useful article. But beyond that, it's very broad in its scope.

Mr. Lawrence: Yes. I took a tour of the Copyright Office, and we were pulling some random filings, and got lucky, I guess, in that we pulled the Greyhound Bus logo. And it was very interesting, because we tried a number, and we got lucky by pulling that. I was wondering how many applications do you get a year?

Ms. Peters: The number of applications and the number of actual works don't totally relate, because it's possible to put more than one work on an application. So the number of applications, for example, for last year, was a little over 600,000. The number of works was well over 800,000.

Mr. Lawrence: It's a lot, for sure.

Ms. Peters: It's a lot.

Mr. Lawrence: Besides applications, what other requests does your office get?

Ms. Peters: We have a very broad area of responsibility. So in addition to registering author's claims, there are documents that reflect agreements between authors and publishers, between book publishers and motion picture companies, between banks who loan money. So those are called documents.

And we record those documents for the public record, so people can know who owns what when, and what the nature of the transfer was. We also have a licensing function. There are statutory licenses for cable television systems to retransmit television programming, and satellite systems to do the same. There's probably four or five altogether.

In some of them, we collect the money. And then we collect claims from people who believe they should be getting the money. And then when they can't agree on how the money should be split, there are arbitration proceedings that we oversee. And the amount of money we're talking about is well over $200 million a year. And it's invested, and it grows significantly. And we recently completed one of those with regard to webcasting of sound recordings.

Then there's all the public service functions. We maintain a very active public information part of our office, where we answer questions over the telephone. We have a website that basically has all of our information online, including frequently asked questions, testimony, all of our publications. People need to get a copy of a work because they're going to court, we make the copies. We search our records.

And then we have a huge amount of legal responsibilities, in both the domestic and international area.

Mr. Lawrence: You've described so much. What are the responsibilities in your job?

Ms. Peters: The Register is the chief lawyer for the office, and also the key manager. I spend probably 60 percent of my time on legal issues, and 40 percent on management issues. Obviously, on the management side, we have been focusing how can we do our job better. How can we reorganize ourselves to be more efficient, and what kind of technology do we need?

On the legal side, it varies on any given day. Tomorrow, there will be a case in the Supreme Court on a law that was passed extending the copyright term that is being challenged as unconstitutional. So yesterday, we were preparing the Solicitor General for that argument. We were helping prepare him. It was the Justice Department who was really preparing him.

We are dealing with a bill that was introduced and passed in the House yesterday that undoes the work, in some aspects, with our arbitration panel on webcasting and basically addresses some of the complaints that small webcasters had. We're looking at all the issues with online distribution of works.

And internationally, we're looking at treaties to make sure that in an online environment, as works pass across borders, that there is, to the extent possible, as much harmony in laws as there possibly can be.

Mr. Lainhart: Can you tell me about your career as the Register of Copyrights, and prior to that, how you got there?

Ms. Peters: Let me start with prior to there. I never had a goal to be a lawyer, and I never had a goal to head a government agency. I came from a family of teachers. And so I started my career as a junior and senior high school teacher of social studies. But I made a decision to move from the very small state of Rhode Island to Washington, D.C. to broaden my horizons.

And I had a Senator who was chairman of the Committee on the Library of Congress. And said why don't you look there? That's all he said. And I looked there, got a job, basically dealing with classifying books. And there was a lecture on copyright, along with everything else the Library did, and I said, gee, that sounds interesting. And the truth is I am a frustrated musician. And I said that's the branch of the law that deals with music.

And I walked in one day and said, I'm going to go to law school, and I think you should give me a job. And they gave me a job as a music examiner. And I went to law school nights. And when I graduated, I just stayed, because the government was a good employer. And the kinds of things we were doing were so interesting.

And the goal was never to head the agency. The goal was to do the job that you have to the best of your ability. And when opportunities above me became available, I'd think well, I could do that. And that went all the way to the top.

Mr. Lawrence: Earlier, when you were describing your responsibilities, you described a lot of things. Tell me about the team you work with. How many people there are, and what their skills are.

Ms. Peters: If you heard, there's a very diverse number of things that we do. The team that I work with most directly are actually the lawyers. Although in my career, I've been chief of many of the divisions in the office, including Examining Division, which is one of the key divisions. And I've actually been acting general counsel.

We have two sets of lawyers, one a general counsel's office that deals with regulations and lawsuits, whatever. We also have a legal division, Policy and International Affairs. Of course, each are headed by a lawyer and staffed by lawyers. Another key position in the office, of course, is a chief operating officer, chief of staff. And it's sort of the same person who does that.

And that group is the group that I work with the most. Then there are the division chiefs that I meet with who are key to all of the work that I do. And it depends on the job, what you're looking for. Probably our largest division is the Examining Division that looks at the works that are coming in, and makes the decision to register or not. And the skill there is that you have analytical ability, that you have the ability to communicate in writing and orally, and hopefully, you have an interest in the arts or the creative process, because that makes you identify with the process, and therefore get more excited about your job than you otherwise might.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good stopping point. We've got to go to a break. Rejoin us in a few minutes as we continue our conversation about management with Marybeth Peters of the Library of Congress.

Copyright material is often thought about as paper. What complexities is the digital age bringing? We'll ask Marybeth when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Marybeth Peters, the Register of Copyrights.

And joining us in our conversation is John Lainhart.

Mr. Lainhart: Marybeth, I'd like to turn our attention to innovation and technology. And certainly the Copyright Office has been very much involved in that throughout its history. They've added new technologies as the eras progress, such as photographs, movies, you know, to its List of Protected Works.

Today, with the widespread use of the Internet and "born-digital," what new considerations do Internet and these creative mediums bring to the registration of copyrights into your office?

Ms. Peters: Probably what we're facing today is unlike anything that we've faced in the past. Copyright from its early days dealt with physical objects. So you created a book, you created a manuscript. It was something physical, and there was something physical that you could transfer to your friend or sell.

Even with born digital, there are things that are still physical. There are CDs, there are DVDs. They're digital. But when you talk about the Internet, and when you talk about online works, it's totally different. It's evanescent. It may be in a file, but it's constantly being changed. People don't save it.

Today what we're struggling with the most are websites. People create websites. And that creates material that they themselves have created, material that they have borrowed, maybe with or without permission. Clearly stuff that's in the public domain.

And those websites have links. And they change constantly. And there's no physical object. And yet, people want to protect it. It's still music. It's still a photograph. It's still a story. And how do you register something that's changing constantly, that links to other things that doesn't really have a physical artifact in the way that we had it in the past? And I can tell you that we have been struggling with it for 2 or 3 years, and we haven't really come to grips with what the best way to do this is.

From the Library, that's looking at acquiring material, they're very concerned, because they want to be able to acquire websites. And they're concerned if they wait till people choose to register, and then all we demand that people send us a copy, that the work will have changed significantly, or disappeared. So, those are issues that have no easy answers that we continue to work with.

Mr. Lawrence: The Internet has content. And I think you described that it's changing. I'm just curious about the Internet in terms of its ability to share information. So, I could imagine taking a picture of the website you described, and maybe that would freeze it. But now I'm trying to imagine the Internet. People put stuff out, and they think it's free. How is that challenging you?

Ms. Peters: Actually, that is challenging everybody. That is challenging the Congress, that is challenging the courts, that's challenging us. It's the revolution, as opposed to evolution, of the online environment that is actually putting a huge stress on how the legal system should focus its attention in making sure that authors are protected. They continue to have the incentives to be able to write and to get a monetary reward, so that they can live off what they've chosen to be their career.

The problem is that the Internet is global. Boundaries disappear. Copyright has always been territorial. You have a United States copyright law. It covers the U.S. And yet you put it up on the Internet, and it's everywhere.

The second thing is that what you mentioned. When people see material on the Internet, they see it as available -- free. Some of the peer-to-peer networks, KaZza and Napster before them, created an atmosphere in which people learned that they could get anything they wanted and they didn't have to pay for it. That actually is a problem that has to be dealt with.

Another piece that we haven't quite figured out. Nobody would go in a bookstore and steal a book, if they're an honorable citizen. When it's downloading, it's perceived as a totally different activity. And the same kinds of ethical considerations don't go into downloading. So there's a lot of work to be done to get the law right. But there's a huge amount of work to educate the public on what copyright is, what its benefits are, and what activities really should give money back to the authors and disseminators of those works so they can continue to write and make works available.

Mr. Lawrence: Is this a manageable problem?

Ms. Peters: On any given day, I'll tell you no. It's got to be. We have to solve it. This nation, in many ways, and its strengths, has to do with the creative efforts of our citizens, and people who live here. And whether it's a copyright or it's a patent with an invention, that's been the base of our economy.

Copyright industries are at the forefront of our economy. We have to find a way to make the system work. We know we have to adjust the legal system.

The biggest problem, I would say perhaps is that those who deal with copyrighted works have not found a successful business model in the Internet. And so they're struggling. And they need to find a successful model fairly soon, because the law will respond to what those models are.

Mr. Lainhart: Several years ago, the Copyright Office developed a pilot program for receiving and processing digital applications; COERRDS, or the Copyright Office Electronic Registration Recordation and Deposit System. I'm wondering how that pilot worked, and what are the benefits that you saw from it?

Ms. Peters: It was a great success in what we were trying to accomplish. The registration system is a very complicated system. It has to respond to all users all over the world, with all types of works. And there are many things that people get wrong along the way. So the system has to be able to respond to all of the errors, and try to avoid those errors.

We learned that it could be done. So we had a think tank in Reston, Corporation for National Research Initiatives, develop a system. So it was developed. It did work as a prototype. Probably 5 percent of what we do is coming in through it. So we proved the concept.

Mr. Lainhart: Are you going to take what you learned from that to develop a new system in the future?

Ms. Peters: Yes. We are basically taking what we did, and we're making it into a production model. And we'll do that over the next few years. We learned a lot of thing. We learned about how much customer support has to be there, because that's a transition that we had never been involved with for the other end.

With regard to the people who use the system, we have listened to their comments, and we're building all of that into our future plans.

Mr. Lawrence: We've heard others in government say that electronic service delivery has to be more than just putting papers online. How are you thinking about dealing with this activity?

Ms. Peters: Actually, we've been thinking about it for quite some time. When people used to ask for information, we'd send them printed material. Now, all of that is on our website. And it can't be just the same as paper. You have to have searching techniques, you have to have software that basically allows all of their questions to be answered, and for them to find that material.

We basically have to figure out customer support. As we tell people well, it's online, you have to tell them how to get it. And you have to have ways in which they can get text only, and not deal very much with pictures, because images take a lot more space.

Our goal is basically to, as we go online, to figure out how we can make it better for the user. Whether it's someone just seeking information about copyright, or someone who wants to register a work or record a document, or they want to look up and find whether or not a particular work was registered, and who owns it. Whatever the piece of information they're looking for, we've got to make it so they can find it as quickly and as easily as they possibly can. And that involves, you know, graphic artists, software designers, listening to what people are telling you. And I think we've been working on that for several years.

Mr. Lawrence: Are there some things that you simply won't be able to put online? I couldn't help but think that the reason there are so many lawyers involved is that things are so complex. And so I'm trying to imagine if there are just some things people are going to have to think about.

Ms. Peters: With regard to what we put online, the only issue that we have had -- and this comes from patent lawyers, not copyright lawyers -- patent lawyers think we should put the works online. And our response is that that's what publishers do. Publishers actually make works available. And we get them so that there's a record of what in fact has been registered, and that that copy can be used in litigation if it has to. But it serves the copyright owners, and it serves the public.

But no. In general, we're looking at -- you know, it's always cost-benefit. What is it that the public is really needing to know as quickly as possible? What's the best way that we can get it to them? And are there any legal restraints in our making that information available?

And because we're an office of public record, on the whole, that's really not too difficult an issue. Our aim is to make as much as possible available, unless there's a restriction.

Mr. Lawrence: It's a good stopping point. We've got to go to a break. Rejoin us in a few minutes as we continue our conversation about management with Marybeth Peters of the Library of Congress.

This is The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and today's conversation is with Marybeth Peters. Marybeth is the Register of Copyrights.

And joining us in our conversation is John Lainhart.

Mr. Lainhart: Marybeth, I know that the Copyright Office is implementing two major strategic initiatives, business process reengineering and implementing new information technology at the same time. Can you describe these initiatives, their objectives and how they relate to each other?

Ms. Peters: The business process reengineering came first. We knew our system was broken. Every consultant that came to the Library, not only the Copyright Office, used us as an example of how not to process material. We were the proverbial smokestacks. We bundled our unbundled material and moved it floor to floor in more than 50 separate operations.

So, we knew we couldn't go on the way we were. But to reengineer everything that you do is a massive project. We finally came to grips with it, I think probably the second or third year I was registered. And we said okay, now is the time.

So, the goal was to take every service that we provide to the public, and look at what we're doing now, and try to figure out a better way to do it. And as we went along, we realized that we were making a commitment to move away from physical objects and paper, to more of receipt of material electronically and processing of that electronically, and that technology was a critical piece in our reengineering plans.

So we then started to look at what systems do we have in place, what systems are we developing, and do they serve where we think we want to go? And with the help of outside consultants, we were able to, in both areas, put the two pieces together. With regard to technology, there were 56 separate systems that had been created over a period of time, many of which did not speak to each other, and many of which were customized and not with off-the-shelf software, some of which were proprietary.

And so we actually had a group that worked very hard to define what our requirements should be related to where we were going in our business process reengineering. And then we put all of the pieces together in a massive implementation plan that will take us through the next several years, if not more.

Mr. Lawrence: And normally, people resist change. So, I think that's just sort of inevitable. It's not any group of employees. And I'm curious what you're doing to work with the employees to get them comfortable for this journey.

Ms. Peters: Actually, from the beginning, I made the decision that the people who worked in the office knew more about what they did and how they did it, and probably had thought more about how it could be improved than people like myself, who one day had been there but wasn't there any more.

So from the beginning, it was driven by the staff. From the very beginning, there was a steering committee of 12 people who represented the office, and who went and talked to everybody under the sun about what should the new system look like. So, the truth is management ultimately makes the decision. But it's been staff-driven, totally involved.

At every level of staff, there has been a massive communication piece to the business process reengineering. Where there is a website, where there is a newsletter, where there are all kinds of meetings. All hands meeting, division meeting, section meetings, hallway chats -- ways in which people can find out how is this going to relate to me?

And when we started to find that one division thought that their jobs were sort of going to disappear, we just met with that division and met it, you know, straightforward, and answered the question. No one is going to lose a job. No one is going to have their job put at a lower level. There will be many more opportunities in this to have more interesting jobs, to have the process more efficient.

Our goal in all of this was to make this a better place to work as well as a more efficient one. So I think, for the most part, people are on board. There obviously are concerns about organization. Where am I going to be working? What am I going to be doing? Who is going to be my group around me? But hopefully, as we go forward, we'll be able to work that out.

Mr. Lainhart: What benefits do you see once these initiatives are in place for the users and the customers of the Copyright Office?

Ms. Peters: If you're an author, if you're an owner, you will be able to have your work registered very quickly and very efficiently, so that you will have a certificate back, perhaps delivered electronically, within a very short period of time. The record that says "Marybeth Peters wrote this book" will be available online very quickly. And this is available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, throughout the world.

People who want information will be able to come to our website, or use any of our services, and get hopefully an accurate answer, but certainly a timely answer to material that they need with regard to security. We are not going to be moving material all over the place. It's going to be held in one place, and essentially it's going to be electronic, and it's going to go through the system. So with regard to security, it actually will be much better.

So, I could probably go on and on. But with regard to whether you are an owner of copyrighted material, or you are a user of the system, it should be much better for you in terms of quick, efficient service. That basically, we want to be the best that there is in delivering this service.

Mr. Lawrence: What have been the unexpected management challenges as you've worked through these initiatives?

Ms. Peters: The truth of the matter is there were very few challenges that were unexpected. Our biggest challenge that was totally unexpected was September 11th, and the anthrax problem on Capitol Hill that followed. Because that brought us almost to a halt.

But the truth is that people spent so much time thinking about everything that could possibly involved with, and our consultants were so thorough, that there weren't any unexpected challenges, truthfully. There were problems. There were issues. But in each case, we more or less had anticipated it.

Mr. Lawrence: How would you measure the impact and the success of these strategies? What performance measures, you know, do you plan on using?

Ms. Peters: A lot of them -- I hadn't really focused on this probably as much as I should. Customer satisfaction is one that we certainly intend to use. Timeliness is another. You know that you received an application on a particular day. How long did it take you before you were able to issue that certificate?

Last year, it could take you 6 to 8 months. Today it's taking 6 to 8 weeks. We would like it to be less than 2 weeks. That's a performance measure that we're planning to use.

Mr. Lawrence: You receive a huge amount of creative works each year. How do you manage these assets to store them, and then I guess protect them from potential theft or vandalism?

Ms. Peters: With all of the works that we get, the way the law is set up, the Library of Congress has a right to select any material that comes in for its collections, or for its exchange programs. There are certain types of work where it's going to take almost everything. A major motion picture that's going to be added to the collection of the Library. Huge amounts of the books are added to the collections of the Library. The serials are added to the collections of the Library. Almost all the sound recordings are added to the collections of the Library.

We only get to keep for the public that which is not selected. So, that's most of the material that's registered in unpublished form, and it's a certain percentage of the published material. For that, we have a warehouse offsite, and we have a storage facility in something called Iron Mountain, Pennsylvania.

Security was an issue. And the biggest problem was not when it was at the warehouse. It was as it moved through the process, because it went so many different places. And because the Library of Congress is in fact a building that's open to the public, even though our space is not supposed to be totally open to the public.

So, we have trained the staff with regard to security. We have put in place a huge number of security measures. We're basically marking every work that comes in upon entry. If it's a DVD or a CD, we actually have a laser marking that goes in that identifies it as property of the Library. And our police officers check when that kind of material is moved and tried to be taken out of the Library.

We have carts that are secure that you lock as you move it from place to place. So, in the past year, we've gone from a small number of thefts to none. But it really has to do with making everybody aware that these are, as you called them, assets. These are somebody's copyrighted works. These are copies of what they gave to the public to be kept for the benefit of the public, and in case there's any litigation. So, a lot of it has been staff training and staff awareness.

Mr. Lawrence: It's time for a break. Rejoin us in a few minutes as we continue our conversation about management with Marybeth Peters from the Library of Congress.

This is The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and today's conversation is with Marybeth Peters. Marybeth is the Register of Copyrights.

And joining us in our conversation is John Lainhart.

Mr. Lainhart: Marybeth, you referenced earlier the anthrax problems in the Capitol complex. Can you explain how disruptive that was for the Copyright Office for us?

Ms. Peters: It was unbelievably disruptive. From the moment that there was a letter delivered on Capitol Hill to the Senate, to Senator Daschle and then Senator Leahy, the entire Capitol Hill complex shut down for 6 days. When it reopened, no mail from the United States Postal Service was delivered to the Library. And that mail was held. And it was held from the middle of October till April. So there were tons of letters, deposits, requests for services.

And most people didn't know what happened to it, even though we put alerts up on our website. So, we got no mail from the Postal Service. We told people we were still getting mail from UPS, and we were getting mail from DHL and FedEx, and that they could walk it in. But that really cut down on the amount of material that was coming in, and then people asking, where is it?

That mail was irradiated. A lot of the material that was irradiated came in unbelievably damaged. The applications just fell apart. The deposit copies. If it was a tape, the plastic had melted into the tape. Totally unusable. With regard to the checks, some were stale. Others were just destroyed.

And we, when we started to get that, had to deal with all of that. And when it started coming in, it came in not in any orderly fashion. We're not sure how it came in. But today, I still get Christmas cards. Yesterday I got a Christmas card from Mongolia. So, we're still dealing with getting really old mail.

When the new mail started coming in, that new mail went through an additional process. Not only is it irradiated. There is now an additional process for Capitol Hill, where they test to see if there is any harmful substance. And that testing goes to Fort Detrick. And that is on top of the irradiation. So, we still, with regard to mail that is sent today, will get it from 6 weeks to 3 months later.

With regard to security, obviously there were issues. If you thought that material was coming in that had anthrax, we have one of the biggest mailrooms in the Washington area. The staff was extremely concerned about what was coming in, and whether they were in any danger. So, we had to do a lot with regard to staff awareness. We got gloves, we got masks. There were all kinds of things that we had to deal with that we never thought we'd have to deal with again. And what we know is that we'll never go back to the way that we were.

And my only regret is that our efforts to reengineer our processes wasn't further along so that we weren't getting more material electronically. Because that's really the only answer to being in a government building on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Lawrence: Looking out, let me ask you about some of the other challenges that are on the horizon for the Copyright Office. As you were describing the issues of dealing with mail and paper, I thought, well, gee, everything will be networked. That will be just great. But I can't help but think that that brings more challenges, too.

Ms. Peters: For us right now, a lot of the challenges are on the legal front. And they really have to do with the fact that copyright in the past has been territorial. It's U.S. copyright law for activities in the United States. Copyright owners were dealing with physical products for the most part, and they were able to control where those products went.

Today, anybody can create a work. Anybody can steal a work. They can put it up on the Internet. It can go to every country in the world. It can be changed so that, for example, if what you're writing about is how to treat a disease, and it's very important that there's integrity in that work, someone who has maybe perhaps less than laudable goals can change it to cause harm.

All of these things have to be addressed. One of the things that we're looking at is what can the law do to basically make sure that people who encrypt their works, so that they can't be changed, so that when you get a work, you know it's from an authorized source, that they have the mechanisms in order to have that measure that they used protected.

We're coping with how do we basically determine what law applies to an act that may take place in the United States, but the server may be in China, and the people who receive it are in Iraq. And those are the issues that I think we're going to have to struggle with, as well as the public. Really, if you're in the business that I'm in, you've got to make the public understand that there is a creator. A creator is important. He has to get paid some way.

And the ability to control the use of his or her work, and to keep it in the form in which he or her wrote it, is something that our forefathers believed in. The Constitution reflects those values that says we need to encourage these people by giving them exclusive rights.

But of course, there's a balance. The balance is the public. What kinds of exceptions should you have so that it's not too burdensome a system? And in an online world, that is an increasingly difficult task.

Mr. Lainhart: Many federal agencies are facing retirement of key personnel. What human resources issues has the Copyright Office taken on to address these concerns in the future?

Ms. Peters: Well certainly, a number of our jobs require a fair amount of training. If you're going to be a copyright examiner, the training is over a year and a half. If you're going to run the office, you really have to have a very in-depth knowledge of the United States copyright law, but also the laws in the rest of the world.

I'm in my 38th year. And so my goal is, you know, to leave the office a much better place than I found it, and not only to make sure that the systems that we have work better, and the technology work better, but that we have in place the people who are needed to do the job. So, I'm trying to, at this point in time, bring in younger people whose goal is to work for the government, and who see it as exciting and challenging, and who are there, and won't leave next year.

Those are lawyers. But with regard to a lot of our positions, there is in fact a fair amount of turnover. People come, people go every year. So, with regard to most of our jobs, I think that we don't have to have a special effort. We just hired, for example, 12 examiners. And we're training those 12 examiners. We keep our eye on the older people. We're trying to figure out ways in which we can, before they leave, gather their expertise, and capture it in such a way that it can be made available to some of the younger people.

When talented people who have been there a long time leave, there is a gap. And all you can do is figure out when people may leave, and try to put in place a plan to make sure that you're developing the skills that they have that can be assigned to a new person.

Mr. Lawrence: Can you share some of those insights? How are you gathering the knowledge these more experienced people have to be shared?

Ms. Peters: I actually deal more with the lawyers, so I'll talk about the piece I know best. I've been hiring many new lawyers. And I've been spending personally an awful lot of time with them. And we have been actually creating some documents that we didn't have in the past that basically explain how you got to where you were.

One of the things that I think our contractors know, when they were coming up with some of the BPR recommendations, I said, oh, that was suggested 20 years ago. And it was rejected 20 years ago, because. It's helpful to have someone who has been there and who --

So we need to archive more. We need to basically get people to get spend time before they leave, you know, sharing with us the kinds of things that were unique, that anyone who is going to do this job in the future needs to think about.

Mr. Lawrence: And our last question is, what advice would you give to a young person considering a career in public service, perhaps even at the Library?

Ms. Peters: Both places are unbelievably unique. There's only one in the country. And the things that we do are worthwhile to the country. They serve important purposes. And in the copyright area, in the legal area, I can say without a doubt that if you're a lawyer, and you're in private practice, there is no way that you can do the kinds of things that you do working in the Copyright Office. You can't go and influence Congress in the same way. Yes, you can be hired as a lobbyist, and yes, you can go.

But when you've worked for the Copyright Office, you've done a very in-depth analysis, much more than what most people do. You have no "clients" per se other than the public. So you're looking at what are the benefits, and what is down side in Congress. You know, you make the decision, but here's what we think. And that's really unique.

So, there's a uniqueness to what we do. And I don't know. I think that certainly working in the Copyright Office, everybody identifies with the creative process, with authors, with their struggles. And that's a laudable goal. The library is one of the most unique cultural institutions in the world. And you can go in any nook and cranny, and there are curators, there are collections. There are functions that most people have no idea about that are challenging and exciting and important.

The Congressional Research Service. That is the arm of Congress. People who work in that service have a unique ability, whether it's in economics or public education or law to make a difference. So there is a wonderful ability in public service to make a difference. And the reward may not be monetary, but I think the challenge is exciting. And it's not maybe as secure as it was in the past. But there's a certain security in the public sector.

Mr. Lawrence: And that's the final word, because we're out of time.

Marybeth, John and I want to thank you for joining us this morning.

Ms. Peters: Thank you.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Marybeth Peters, the Register of Copyrights.

Be sure and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's very interesting conversation. Again, that's businessofgovernment.org.

This is Paul Lawrence. See you next week.

Marybeth Peters interview
10/26/2002
Marybeth Peters

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