August 29, 2023
Association of American Publishers Statement on Important Valancourt Books Decision
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled today in favor of Valancourt Books, a small Virginia publisher and AAP member company, in an important copyright case that rejects the Government’s argument that depositing books with the Library of Congress without compensation and under threat of substantial penalties is a condition of copyright protection. In reversing the lower court, the Appeals Court also rejected the Government’s position that abandoning one’s copyrights within the current legal framework is a viable alternative to avoiding the deposit requirement.
The opinion found “mandatory deposit” (section 407 of the Copyright Act) unconstitutional as applied to physical books. In the case, the Library made repeated demands for copies of Valancourt titles under the pain of fines despite Valancourt’s objections that they would be costly to provide. The Court did not address the publisher’s First Amendment claim because it was unnecessary to do so. AAP’s amicus curiae brief in support of Valancourt was cited in the opinion.
“We are pleased with the Court’s clear and concise decision, which unpacks a troubling legacy practice in the Library of Congress that has been unconstitutional since Congress enacted the 1976 Copyright Act, which among other things provides that copyright protection must be automatic, free of burdensome formalities, and in step with global standards,” commented Maria A. Pallante, President and CEO of AAP. “Nor is there any other exchange that offsets the taking of property here. Rather, as the Court said, there is not ‘a single incremental benefit that copyright owners receive for depositing works pursuant to Section 407.’”
“Additionally, since the Government spent so much time arguing abandonment theories, we must note the troubling nature of a solution that would require the Copyright Office—a public agency charged with administering a registration system that is critical to copyright protection —to facilitate or even encourage copyright owners to abandon their copyright interests in order to avoid deposit demands. That is both a false and punitive choice and would be irresponsible policy.
“As we stated in our brief, a far better policy would be to incentivize a robust national collection through ‘carrots, not sticks.’ This approach would position the Library to avoid backlogs and waste and invite authors and publishers to support the Library’s uniquely public role through voluntary forms of cooperation that do not contort ‘the integrity, interpretation, and constitutionality of the Copyright Act.’”
Read Court of Appeals decision here.
Read AAP’s amicus brief here.