Singer Don Henley said Pallante’s ouster was “an enormous blow” to artists. “She was a champion of copyright and stood up for the creative community, which is one of the things that got her fired,” he said.
Although personnel changes are not uncommon when a new leader comes in, many in the creative industries interpret Hayden’s move — made six weeks after she took office — as proof of her anti-copyright bias. They say Hayden’s library background aligns her with Google, which owns YouTube, the source of many claims of copyright infringement.
Most Americans think of Google as a search engine doing unalloyed social good, but the company also wants to make money and wield political influence along the way. So you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to notice that an abrupt change of leadership at the U.S. Copyright Office is good news for Google, which aims to pay less for profiting from the property of others.
Maria Pallante served for more than five years as the U.S. register of copyrights, a division of the Library of Congress. Two weeks ago Ms. Pallante was reshuffled to an advisory post for “digital strategy” she never sought, a job that included expanding the library gift shop. Three days later she resigned in a letter to the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, who had been sworn in mere weeks earlier. What happened?
Ms. Hayden’s allies say she simply wants to install her own loyalists, and maybe so. Ms. Pallante favored reorganizing the copyright office as an independent agency, which might have felt threatening to Ms. Hayden. But we can find no similar removal of a copyright register, and the details are unusual.
There is some circumstantial evidence that Google’s lobbying influence was brought to bear in removing Ms. Pallante, though both Google and Ms. Pallante declined to talk to us. Google’s business model is essentially making money off other people’s content, and the company’s strategy has been to infringe on copyrighted material like books and fight it out later in court. The copyright office administers laws that protect owners.
For example, Ms. Pallante’s office opposed a Justice Department interpretation of licensing that would have undercut collaborations. As it happens, that change was reportedly pushed by a former outside counsel for Google who had moved over to Justice. Ms. Pallante’s view won in court.
Earlier this year the Federal Communications Commission proposed something known as the set-top box rule. The thrust was to force cable companies to build a universal adapter so Google and others could broadcast content without paying licensing fees or abiding by carriage agreements. Google supported the new rule. Less pleased were creators, who wouldn’t be paid for their work.
On Friday, October 21, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden summarily removed Maria Pallante as Register of Copyright and Director of the U.S. Copyright Office, the position she had held since 2011. It was the first time the head of the Copyright Office had been removed in 119 years! Ms. Pallante was reassigned as an advisor to the Librarian. Associate Register Karyn Temple Claggett was appointed Acting Register.
On Monday, October 24, Ms. Pallante resigned, telling Dr. Hayden, “I hope you will respect that I do not accept the reassignment…that was announced on Friday.” Having been locked out of her computer, she also added, “I would be grateful for your accommodation as I say goodbye to colleagues and collect personal items this week, and would appreciate the reinstatement of access to my computer and emails so that I may appropriately archive records and remove photos of my family.”
We have no inside knowledge of what may have led to these abrupt changes. But real issues are stake in copyright policy, both at the Copyright Office and at the Library of Congress (of which the Copyright Office is a component).
More than twenty years ago, Maria Pallante served with distinction as the executive director of the NWU. Although her tenure with the NWU was relatively brief, we remember and honor her independence, her intelligence, and her ability to understand and work with our diverse membership — the same independence, intelligence, and ability to understand the perspectives of diverse interest groups that she demonstrated as Register of Copyright, and that has distinguished the work of the Copyright Office staff. We thank Maria Pallante for her contributions to our union, to the Copyright Office, and to the nation.
We have disagreed strongly with many of the proposals and recommendations made by the Copyright Office under Ms. Pallante, just as under her predecessors. Some of the priorities for our copyright advocacy are to oppose legislation the Copyright Office has proposed or endorsed during Ms. Pallante’s term, such as to create new exceptions to copyright to allow copying of so-called “orphaned” works without payment or permission of the writers , undercutting those writers’ incomes.
The NWU has never had any special access or influence at the Copyright Office. Nor should we. Nor should anyone else.
Read the post on National Writers Union
Google has been on a quest to limit copyright holders’ rights when it comes to the written word, even winning a landmark Supreme Court case declaring that its Google Books program, which digitizes hundreds of [tens of millions] books, was creating “transformative works,” and not infringing on authors’ copyright.
Google appears to have already placed friendly officials high places, while using its sway with academics to make its case with the FCC that your cable — and cable’s copyrights — should be free.
Starting in 2016, Google-related appointees began appearing across the Obama Administration. Carla Hayden, who recently took over at the Library of Congress, was President of the American Library Association, a huge recipient of Google funding (largely because of Google’s digital library programs). The Library of Congress, of course, is home to the US Copyright Office, and the Register of Copyrights — America’s highest ranking copryight official.
When the set-top box proposal came to Congress, they of course turned to the US Copyright Office for insight as to whether Google, among other set-top box companies, might be infringing on cable’s copyright.
Google appeared to immediately exert its power. Five copyright academics sent a letter to the US Copyright Office defending set-top boxes, and all five had at least some ties to Google.
Signer Peter Jazsi was a member of Google’s policy fellowship program, an advocate on IP issues, and a founder of the Digital Future Coalition, which includes several organizations funded by Google. Signer Pam Samuelson, a Berkeley School of Information professor, is on the board of several non-profits that receive significant grants from Google. Signer Annemarie Bridy was a scholar at Stanford University’s Center for Internet & Society, whose largest corporate benefactor is Google.
Many of those same groups pushed back when Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante said it was likely set-top devices could infringe on cable companies’ copyrights. One group, Public Knowledge, even claimed Pallante was in the pocket of cable and entertainment interests.
Weirdly, as soon as the new Library of Congress head (Hayden) was sworn in, Pallante lost her job as Register of Copyrights. She was first demoted and then resigned, opening up a space — conveniently — for a friendlier Registrar.