New Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden made her first big move last week, ousting Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante. In an October 21 memo, Hayden abruptly removed Pallante from the Copyright Office, which falls under Hayden’s purview, and reassigned her to a senior advisor position at the Library of Congress. Pallante, however, declined the new assignment and resigned on October 24.
Her departure was met with shock and dismay in the content industries, where Pallante was seen as a strong ally.
“We are disappointed to see Pallante go,” read a statement from the Authors Guild. “Under Pallante, the Copyright Office operated under and embodied the principle that copyright exists to benefit the public by incentivizing new works of authorship, and that the rights of individual creators need to be respected.”
The sudden removal of Pallante has stoked fears within the content industries, including among publishers, over the future of U.S. copyright policy. In Billboard, Robert Levine, author the book Free Ride: How the Internet Is Destroying the Culture Business and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back, observed that Hayden is “perceived to favor looser copyright laws,” citing Hayden’s past role as president of the American Library Association, which Levine characterized as “an organization that lobbies for greater public access to creative works, sometimes at the expense of creators.”
Levine also called out “the Obama Administration’s close ties to technology companies,” which, he asserted, value “exceptions to copyright over the rights of creators and copyright owners.”
But multiple observers familiar with both the Copyright office and the library’s operations told PW that Pallante’s ouster was not necessarily rooted in any specific disagreements over copyright policy. Rather, it most likely was a matter of Hayden “getting the Library’s house in order.” Pallante, the sources noted, has strongly urged lawmakers to remove the Copyright Office from under the purview of the Library of Congress and make it an independent agency, with the register becoming a Senate-confirmable presidential appointee.
“If Congress wants to remove the Copyright Office, it can do so,” explained one source, who did not want to be identified. “But, for now, it is part of the Library of Congress.” The source added that Hayden couldn’t be expected to lead the Copyright Office forward with a subordinate pushing Congress for the agency's independence at the same time. At press time, LoC officials had not yet commented.
Another close observer, who also did not want to be identified, agreed and said there was no shadowy Silicon Valley plot to remove Pallante and “jam in” a more tech industry-friendly Register, as some reports have suggested.
In a statement, Hayden said the library is planning a national search to find Pallante’s permanent replacement. And according to Billboard, Hayden has already approached “the heads of several copyright trade groups about serving on a search committee.”
Authors Guild officials stressed that any search committee should include creators, and expressed hope that the new register would “continue the Copyright Office’s long tradition of championing and serving the interests of individual creators.”
Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the ALA’s Washington Office, also weighed in, saying ALA stands ready to assist in recruiting a new register who is “committed to shaping a copyright system that balances the fair protection of copyrighted information, and the broadest possible use of that information to foster innovation, education, and creativity of all kinds.”
In the interim, associate register of copyrights Karyn Temple Claggett will lead the Copyright Office.
Pallante had served various roles at the Copyright Office since 2008, and had been Register since 2011. Among her posts prior to joining the Copyright Office, she was executive director of the National Writers Union (1993-1995), and assistant director of the Authors Guild (1991-1993).
Though sources said disagreements over copyright policy were likely not the driving factor in her removal, Pallante was seen as a somewhat polarizing leader—strongly supported and praised by the content industries, while criticized by Silicon Valley, public advocacy groups, and to some degree, the library community.
“The Copyright Office really could use new leadership,” wrote one critic, Mike Masnick, on the popular copyright blog TechDirt. Masnick suggested that Pallante’s legacy as register is “marred” by controversial positions, including her strong support of the ill-fated Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and other “bad ideas on copyright reform.” Masnick, however, conceded that Pallante “wasn’t as bad as some critics made her out to be,” and also had some good ideas. But, but he concluded, “it does seem like today’s Copyright Office needs someone who isn’t just representing Hollywood’s viewpoint and recognizes that copyright itself is supposed to benefit the public first and foremost—something Pallante denies.”
The question now is what happens next—and perhaps, more the to point, what might happen in Congress? In a joint statement, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Ranking Member John Conyers, who oversaw a recently concluded series of hearings on copyright reform, called Pallante’s departure “a tremendous loss.” The new register, they noted, “should be dedicated to protecting creative rights and modernizing the Copyright Office.”
In a separate statement, Senator Orrin Hatch said Pallante’s departure “underscores the long-standing challenges associated with housing the Copyright Office in the Library of Congress.”
Could Pallante’s departure spur Congress to finally appropriate sufficient resources to modernize the Copyright Office, which virtually everyone agrees is badly needed and long overdue? Hayden herself said she intends to build on the work Pallante did in terms of modernizing the Copyright Office for the digital age.
Or, might Pallante’s removal push Congress to consider removing the office from the Library of Congress altogether? Pallante was certainly held in high esteem by lawmakers. But sources expressed doubt that in the current political climate Congress would seek to create a new federal bureaucracy for copyright—which is the domain of Congress—that would be headed by a presidential appointee.
At the very least, ALA’s Sheketoff observed that Pallante’s removal suggests that the future of the U.S. Copyright Office is a high priority for at least one government official—Carla Hayden.