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First Copyright Chief Economist Sets Sights on Gender Disparity

May 16, 2022, 6:28 PM

Studying and addressing gender disparity in the US copyright system is a top priority of the government’s first copyright chief economist, Brent Lutes.

The Copyright Office plans to release in the near future the findings of a gender disparity study, Lutes said in an interview with Bloomberg Law. The study was conducted in collaboration with Joel Waldfogel, an economics professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

“I’ll be working with Joel to drill down on that to figure out why disparities exist in some areas and why they don’t in others and understanding the why is really the first step to addressing them,” Lutes said. “Then, beyond that, we’re going to extend that analysis to additionally look at racial and ethnic disparities in the usage of the copyright system.”

Lutes, who’s served in the new chief economist role since April 10, said his other goals include making relevant data from the Copyright Office publicly available and navigating what the role of a chief economist should be.

Closing Gender Gaps

The first step to closing gaps between men and women in the copyright system is to analyze available data, Lutes said.

“Econometrically we can drill down and figure out what outside variables affect that difference over time,” he said.

For example, changes in college education “may play a role in closing the gender gap in copyright registration or it could be something else entirely,” he said.

“There are many variables that we can put into this to suss out which ones are actually playing a role. Once we figure out which variables matter, we can figure out how to change those variables in a way that will be beneficial.”

Role Is Fluid

Given that Lutes’ position is the first of its kind at the Copyright Office, many of the specifics of the role are still fluid and taking shape.

“I think probably the largest part of my job is to create and manage a research agenda that is relevant to copyright questions,” Lutes said. “Part of my initial job is shaping this world into what is going to be long term, so figuring out what are the highest value areas that I can contribute to.”

He said the office is focusing on how different rules, procedures, and operational decisions have an impact on copyright functions in terms of efficiency, accessibility, and usefulness to the public.

Attorneys previously told Bloomberg Law that the chief economist could potentially weigh rate setting for copyright registrations.

Lutes, in response, said, “to the extent that there are economic questions around how those rates are set and affects them, then I will be involved with answering those questions as needed.”

Outside of the office, Lutes said he aims to interact with stakeholders and the academic community to address relevant policy questions.

“I have not gotten to the point where I can say which ones of those that I’m going to focus on first,” he said. “I think I’m still in the exploratory mode where I’m trying to figure out which ones of those are the highest priorities.”

Transition to Public Service

Lutes comes to the Copyright Office from the private sector, where he most recently worked with the Brattle Group as a consultant, expert witness, and project manager.

“I have experience with not just academic economists, but also with industry stakeholders, and the legal infrastructure around copyright,” Lutes said. “And so, I thought that having that wide array of different experiences really helped shape this role into something very useful and shape it into what it needs to be.”

However, entering the public sector comes with some adjustments.

“I think anybody transitioning from the private sector to government work, you’re going to have an adjustment period, and I’m under no illusion that I’m somehow immune to that,” Lutes said.

While changes can happen “on the fly” in the private sector, the federal government “is a little bit different.”

“You get on a path and it’s harder to change directions,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Riddhi Setty in Washington at rsetty@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com; Adam M. Taylor at ataylor@bgov.com