Abraham L. Kaminstein, 1960–1971


Abraham Lewis Kaminstein was appointed Register of Copyrights effective December 24, 1960, by Librarian of Congress L. Quincy Mumford. Before being named Register, Kaminstein had served in the Copyright Office for 13 years. He was appointed the first chief of the Examining Division when it was formed in 1947. In 1959, he was promoted to the position of deputy register of copyrights and chief of the Examining Division. He became acting register upon the death of Arthur Fisher in November 1960.

Born in New York City on May 13, 1912, Kaminstein was educated in the public schools there and in 1932 received a B.S.S. degree from the College of the City of New York. In 1935 and 1936, respectively, he received the LL.B. and LL.M. degrees from the Harvard Law School, where he was a research fellow in 1936 and 1937. He began his government career in the latter year and served as an attorney in various agencies before coming to the Copyright Office.

Kaminstein was a leading force in adapting the copyright registration system to the public interest, and he established many examining procedures that were long in use. As head of the Copyright Office, he gave new impetus to the movement for the general revision of the copyright law. He presided over numerous meetings of the panel of expert consultants on general revision. His leadership resulted in molding recommendations for the new statute and in keeping the revision effort alive despite legislative inactivity in the Senate during the years following passage of the general revision bill by the House of Representatives in 1967. The bill finally enacted by Congress in 1976 was, in its major features, the measure prepared under his direction.

In addition, he took a leading part in international copyright affairs and had a pivotal role in coping with the broad issues in the field of intellectual property. Among his most notable achievements was his work in resolving the critical controversies between developing and developed countries engendered by the Protocol Regarding Developing Countries adopted at the 1967 meeting in Stockholm for the revision of the Berne Convention. The Protocol, which would have permitted developing countries to make certain sweeping reservations and exceptions under the revised convention, brought a major crisis in international copyright. Although the United States was not at that time a party to the Berne Convention, Kaminstein, as head of the U.S. observer delegation, suggested alternatives that were the basis of a program that culminated in revisions of both the Berne Convention and the Universal Copyright Convention, which brought the developing and developed countries into harmony. These revisions were adopted at conferences held in Paris in 1971 where Kaminstein was cochairman of the U.S. delegation and general rapporteur of the revision conference on the Universal Copyright Convention.

Also, he assisted in preparing the U.S. proposals for the original version of the Universal Copyright Convention and was advisor to the U.S. delegation in 1951 at the Paris meeting where the preliminary draft of the convention was prepared. He was chairman of the U.S. delegation to the International Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations held in Rome in 1961 and was general rapporteur of the conference

According to the Copyright Office's annual report for 1972, "His achievements will undoubtedly have a permanent influence on the course of both domestic and foreign copyright. He carried the program for the general revision of the copyright law, begun in 1955, through a decade of development toward enactment, and his accomplishments in international copyright, culminating in the revision of the Universal Copyright Convention adopted at Paris on July 24, 1971, were of outstanding significance."

Kaminstein retired as Register on August 31, 1971, because of ill health and was appointed at that time honorary consultant in domestic and international copyright affairs by the Librarian. In that same year, he received the Richard Strauss Medal from the German Society for Performing and Mechanical Rights in Music, the first American so honored. He also received the Jefferson Medal from the New Jersey Patent Law Association and the 1977 Award of the Copyright Society of the U.S.A. He was a member of the New York bar, the Supreme Court bar, the Federal Bar Association, the American Bar Association, and the Copyright Society of the U.S.A.

The Copyright Society of the U.S.A. dedicated to Kaminstein a legislative history project on the 1976 Copyright Act that he was instrumental in bringing about. This was published as The Kaminstein Legislative History Project: A Compendium and Analytical Index of Materials Leading to the Copyright Act of 1976, edited by Alan Latman and James F. Lightstone.

Kaminstein died in Washington, D.C., on September 10, 1977.