Marybeth Peters, 1994-2010
Marybeth Peters served as Register of Copyrights from August 7, 1994, through December 31, 2010. She had a longer tenure than any other Register with the exception of Thorvald Solberg (1897–1930), the first Register. Peters directed the policies and operations of the U.S. Copyright Office, which administers the laws pertaining to copyright and provides advice to Congress. She oversaw the implementation of important new laws, including the Uruguay Round Agreements Act, the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Under her direction, the Copyright Office produced numerous reports to Congress that included recommendations for legislation.
As a respected expert on U.S. and international copyright law and current issues regarding copyright, Peters spoke on copyright-related topics at conferences throughout the United States and abroad and represented the interests of the United States at international meetings as a member of official U.S. delegations. She testified before Congress many times. The author of The General Guide to the Copyright Act of 1976, Peters developed and implemented staff training on the 1976 Copyright Act, and she worked closely with staff to develop information for the public on the Act. For this training, she received the Library of Congress Superior Service award in 1977.
Peters was raised in East Providence, Rhode Island. She received her undergraduate degree from Rhode Island College and her law degree, with honors, from George Washington University Law School in 1971. Her exemplary service to the nation began in the Library of Congress in October 1965 as a shelf-lister in the Processing Department. She held numerous positions at all levels in the Copyright Office, beginning on February 14, 1966, with her appointment as a music examiner in the former Music Section of the Examining Division. Peters joined the General Counsel’s staff as an attorney-advisor in December 1975. In December 1977, she was promoted to chief of the Information and Reference Division. In April 1980, she was appointed chief of the Examining Division, where she remained until September 1983, when she became a policy planning advisor to the Register, serving in that capacity from 1983 to 1994. She has also served as acting general counsel from 1993 to 1994. From 1989 to 1990, Peters was a consultant on copyright law to the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva.
Peters received numerous awards for her work as Register of Copyrights. Peters was a frequent lecturer on copyright. She presented the 2010 sixth annual Finnegan Distinguished Lecture in Intellectual Property at Washington College of Law, American University; the 2010 Christopher Meyer Memorial Lecture at George Washington University Law School; the 2009 sixth Charles Clark Memorial Lecture in London, sponsored by the Copyright Licensing Agency, the Federation of European Publishers, the Publishers Association, the Publishers Licensing Society, and the London Book Fair; the 2009 sixth LexisNexis Intellectual Property Law Lecture in Global and Technology Law Program at Suffolk University Law School; the 2004 Brace Memorial Lecture at the New York University School of Law; and the 1996 Horace S. Manges Lecture at Columbia University.
She was a noted educator on copyright law and guest lecturer at law schools. She served as a lecturer in the Communications Law Institute of the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law (1986–1994), as adjunct professor of copyright law at the University of Miami School of Law (1980–1986), and at the Georgetown University Law Center (1977–1978). Peters also served on various intellectual property advisory committees of several law schools.
After retiring from the Copyright Office, Peters entered private practice in 2011 and served on the board of directors of the Copyright Clearance Center before retiring from legal practice a few years later. She was recognized at the 2019 annual Copyright Society meeting and regularly attended Copyright Office year-end events since her retirement.
Peters was a member of the District of Columbia Bar Association, the Copyright Society of the U.S.A. and former trustee, the American Bar Association and its Intellectual Property Section, the ALAI-USA (Association Littéraire et Artistique Internationale), and the International Technology Law Association and is a former member of its board of directors.
Peters died September 29, 2022, in Washington, DC, leaving a lasting and far-reaching legacy.