Two former heads of the U.S. Copyright Office sent the following letter to the chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees in sharp criticism of the abrupt and possibly actionable sacking of Maria Pallante, the former head of the U.S. Copyright Office. (The job title is “Register of Copyrights”.) The letter attaches a detailed explanation of the role of the Copyright Office and the office of the Register and is well worth the read. I haven’t included it in this post, but you can download the entire letter with the attachment here.
November 28, 2016
Dear Chairman Grassley, Ranking Member Leahy, Chairman Goodlatte, Ranking Member Conyers:
We write to express our concern about the unseemly dismissal of the Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante. We write as former Registers of Copyrights, having served in that post collectively for the twenty-five years immediately preceding Ms. Pallante’s tenure. Our concern is focused on the implications of Ms. Pallante’s dismissal for the future of the American copyright system.
As you know, on October 21, 2016, the newly confirmed librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden, abruptly removed Ms. Pallante from her position as Register of Copyrights. That Dr. Hayden’s actions were taken without any prior consultation with you or with the affected stakeholders only compounds our already serious concerns. In the 119-year history of the Copyright Office, no other Librarian has treated a Register with such disrespect. But our concern goes deeper than process, or dismay at the poor treatment of a dedicated public servant: the episode makes us question whether any Register, or the Copyright Office itself, can continue to serve the public interest under the current institutional framework. And we are concerned that in the current environment, many of the most qualified candidates will not seek the position.
Copyright has helped create our unique American culture, and it helps drive our global economic competitiveness. In the enclosed document, we detail the role the Copyright Office plays in the furtherance of both, and in the administration of the law and the development of copyright policy.
The placement of the Copyright Office in the Library owed more to an accident of 19th Century history than to a carefully considered plan for effective management. Since that time, the role of the Register and the importance of copyright have grown, and the competing missions and differing priorities of the Library and the Copyright Office have increasingly emerged as a source of tension. Neither Ms. Pallante’s endorsement in principle of greater autonomy for the Copyright Office nor Dr. Hayden’s decision to remove her created these tensions. Rather, they are inevitable given the divergent roles of the two organizations. Stripped to its basics, the choice is stark: Does Congress want modernization and independent copyright advice straight and true from the expert agency, or does it want copyright administration and advice filtered through the lens – and shaped by the perspective – of the head of the national library?
We urge you to give this matter your early consideration — for the benefit of future generations of artists, authors, entrepreneurs, and the American public. The United States needs a Copyright Office that is built to succeed.
Register of Copyrights 1985-1993
Register of Copyright 1994-2010
cc: The Honorable Orrin G. Hatch
The Honorable Dianne Feinstein
The Honorable Dr. Carla Hayden
Acting Register of Copyrights Karyn Temple-Claggett