Since 1989, Tracey Armstrong has worked at Copyright Clearance Center, a Danvers company that helps publishers, universities, and others license content. She joined CCC as a clerk when it had about 35 or 40 employees, but took night classes at Northeastern to get her MBA in 2001 and rose to chief executive in 2007. Today, Armstrong, 47, runs a 350-person company that made nearly $300 million last year by facilitating copyright licenses. She spoke about Copyright Clearance Center’s past and future, and her days as a Deadhead.
1. Copyright has a long history, and Armstrong is something of a history buff. The center was founded by Michael Harris, a publishing industry veteran whose paper “The Case for a Clearinghouse” helped shape the debate over the 1976 Copyright Act. Armstrong has a three-centuries-old copy of the Statute of Anne, one of the earliest intellectual property laws in Western history, in a glass case in her office.
“Basically, it’s the first copyright regulation,” Armstrong said. “That piece was a gift given to a former chair of the board of directors of the Copyright Clearance Center and it was gifted back to the company.”
2. In 1992, CCC licensed 1.5 million pieces of content; today, its portfolio includes more than 100 million pieces. In total, it has issued over 1 billion licenses — mostly for text, such as books and journal articles, but also for images and movies.
“You have so many esoteric types of works that people are using so you have to have a vast collection of rights to authorize. The volume of content has exponentially grown.”
3. The usual line from content owners is that technological advances, like photocopiers and the Internet, have made it harder to protect their claims. But Armstrong said her company is keeping pace with rapid changes that allow almost anyone to become a publisher and share content that takes many different forms. For example, CCC has acquired two software companies since 2012 to make licensing easier for knowledge workers and companies that deal with copyrighted work on a daily basis.
“We don’t expect everyone to become a copyright expert. We believe copyright licensing can facilitate and accelerate the evolution of content, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
4. CCC is active internationally and in policy circles. Armstrong is a director of the International Federation of Reproductive Rights Organizations (which, she admits, doesn’t immediately sound like a copyright group), and her group has a program to support copyright clearinghouses in other countries, like Jamaica and Ghana. In 2012, the company struck a deal to license content from the biggest medical journal publisher in China, and the group also participates in regulatory discussions around the world.
“We do a lot of work in Washington D.C. and in Brussels [the headquarters of the European Union]. We have employees in something like nine countries.”
5. If you want to get Armstrong off-topic, just bring up the Grateful Dead. Better yet, start toying around with the Lego replica of a Volkswagen camper in the middle of her conference table, complete with a tiny Lego lava lamp. She fondly recalls the last time she saw Jerry Garcia in concert near Highgate, Vt. in 1995. Bob Dylan also played at the concert, and the Globe reported that 75,000 people showed up and camped out.
“It was a crazy time. It was one of the highlights of my life.”