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 Twitter feed. 

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 Copyright Office!

The new rule goes into effect March 6, 2017.

HT @EriqGardner @THR, who picked up on this story.