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How Do You Measure a Summer at the Copyright Office?

The following is a guest post by Ryan Kwock, summer law clerk in the Office of Policy and International Affairs

This summer, I had the pleasure of serving as a law clerk in the Office of Policy and International Affairs at the U.S. Copyright Office. In addition to working on challenging domestic and international copyright law matters, I took advantage of the opportunity to explore the numerous divisions and reading rooms in the Library of Congress, some of which were just a few floors away from my office.

Jonathan Larson

Jonathan Larson

I’ve always appreciated music and the American theater. The Music Division of the Library of Congress houses some of the largest and richest collections of American musical theater. In 2004, the Library acquired the Jonathan Larson Collection, an array of over 4,000 documents and materials from the American composer, lyricist, playwright, and performer. I enjoyed exploring the collection of Larson’s papers relating to his successful rock opera, Rent.

Rent is likely one of Larson’s best-known works, receiving critical acclaim for its depiction of young artists struggling against poverty, drugs, relationships, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York City’s East Village. Such acclaim led to its winning several awards, including the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and four 1996 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. After a twelve-year run on Broadway, the musical closed in 2008, but has received subsequent Off-Broadway revivals and national tours. Although Larson tragically and suddenly died the night before the show’s first Off-Broadway preview, the legacy of his messages has endured for generations of theatergoers.

Seasons of Love calculation

The Library’s collection—including Larson’s manuscripts, draft scores and scripts, research materials, correspondence, design sketches, and production materials—provide a firsthand glimpse into the creator’s mind. For example, pages of Larson’s lyric sketches reveal his notes and mathematical calculations to determine the 525,600 minutes in a year chorus that forms the musical’s centerfold anthem, “Seasons of Love.” As someone who grew up tirelessly listening to this Broadway recording, I have to say that seeing this collection was a poignant and inspiring experience.

Rent has experienced its own instances of controversy, including in the copyright arena. Lynn Thomson served as a dramaturge, assisting Larson in “clarifying the storyline of the musical.” After the show opened on Broadway, Thomson filed suit against Larson’s heirs, claiming that she was a coauthor of the musical because of the contributions she provided to the final version of the show. In Thomson v. Larson (1998), however, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that Thomson could not be a coauthor because evidence showed that Larson did not intend for her to be a coauthor. This left open a question whether a dramaturge could retain copyright interest in their contributions to a work.

Nevertheless, the Jonathan Larson collection is an invaluable window into the creation of one of the most influential musical productions in American theater history. To see it, visit the Performing Arts Reading Room in the James Madison Memorial Building of the Library of Congress. I enjoyed a wonderful summer experience, witnessing spectacular collections of creativity housed in the Library and working for the federal agency that administers the Copyright Act.

The International Copyright Institute (ICI) 2018 – Cross Border Issues

The following is a guest post by Zhao Zhao, summer law clerk in the Office of Policy and International Affairs The U.S. Copyright Office and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) successfully hosted the 2018 International Copyright Institute (ICI) from June 4–8, 2018, in Washington, D.C. The Copyright Office’s Office of Policy & International Affairs […]

Copyright and a Free Press

The following is a guest post by Brad Greenberg, counsel for policy and international affairs. This month marks the hundredth anniversary of oral arguments in the seminal U.S. Supreme Court case of International News Service v. Associated Press (1918), which established the federal common law doctrine of “hot news” misappropriation. This anniversary comes at a […]

Copyright Office Proposes New Fee Model

Today, the Copyright Office announces a new proposed fee schedule. The Office charges fees for a variety of public services, such as filing applications for registration, recording documents, and researching and copying records. Every three to five years, we review the costs of services and assess new fees. Typically, the Office does not charge the […]

Copyright Office Invites Creative Solutions

The following is a guest post by Frances Carden, technical writer in the Copyright Modernization Office. The buzz around here has been big–you may remember my April post about the establishment of the Copyright Modernization Office (CMO) that directs all modernization initiatives across the U.S. Copyright Office–and it’s getting bigger and bolder. On May 7, […]

A Day in the Life of the Copyright Modernization Office

The following is a guest post by Frances Carden, technical writer in the Copyright Modernization Office. I joined the Copyright Modernization Office (CMO) straight from a background in federal consulting. I honestly hadn’t planned to change jobs, but was drawn in by CMO’s posted job description requesting a technical writer namely because a) I’m a […]

Celebrating Female Songwriters

The following is a guest post by Alison Hall, writer-editor. While closing out our celebration of Women’s History Month, I discovered that female songwriters have been registering works with the Copyright Office for more than 147 years. I began my research with book one of the official U.S. Copyright Office record book, which contains registrations […]