With a search for the next Register of Copyrights currently underway, a bill introduced in Congress yesterday would let Donald Trump make that appointment, rather than Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden.
On March 23, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) introduced the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act, which would give the President the power to appoint the Register of Copyrights for a 10 year, renewable term, subject to Senate confirmation. The President would also have the power to fire the Register at any time.
Currently, the Register of Copyrights is appointed by and serves at the sole discretion of the Librarian of Congress, who oversees the Copyright Office.
The bill was introduced with 29 bipartisan cosponsors and is supported by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Senate Judiciary Committee Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
In a statement, Goodlatte and Conyers urged "quick action" on the bill.
"Time is of the essence when it comes to the selection process for a new Register of Copyrights," the statement reads. "With the current Register serving only on an acting basis, now is the time to make changes to ensure that future registers are transparent and accountable to Congress. We must ensure that any new Register is a good manager and fully qualified to lead and make this office more operationally effective as he or she continues to directly advise Congress on copyrights."
Currently, Karyn Temple Claggett is leading the Copyright Office on an interim basis, after Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, abruptly ousted Maria Pallante last fall.
It is unclear why legislators are calling for such urgency, or why they are seeking essentially to give the executive branch expanded power in the copyright realm. But sources tell PW the bill is clearly an attempt to keep Hayden from appointing a permanent successor to Maria Pallante.
Pallante’s sudden removal by Hayden was met with dismay by many in the content industries, some of whom suggested the move was part of a Google-led conspiracy. It was also met with concern by Goodlatte and Conyers, who at the time issued a statement calling Pallante’s departure "a tremendous loss.” In January, Pallante was tapped to lead the Association of American Publishers. During her tenure as register, Pallante had strongly urged lawmakers to make the Copyright Office independent.
In a statement, the Library Copyright Alliance, a group of national library organizations, called the proposal "mystifying," and urged Congress to reject the bill.
"Why Congress would voluntarily cede its own confirmed Librarian’s authority to select and oversee a key Congressional advisor on copyright matters to the Executive Branch is hard to imagine," the statement reads. "It's also difficult to understand how the public or Congress itself would benefit from politicization of the Register of Copyrights' position by making it subject to presidential appointment and Senate confirmation, as this legislation proposes. Such politicization of the position necessarily would result in a Register more actively engaged in policy development than in competent management and modernization."
Although this bill is limited to the appointment of the Register of Copyrights, the legislation comes after the House Judiciary Committee last December released a policy proposal backing the creation of an autonomous Copyright Office, with the register a presidential appointee. That proposal was the first to come from a lengthy, recently-concluded review of the nation’s copyright laws, overseen by Goodlatte and Conyers, which also proposed to expand the Copyright Office bureaucracy with new positions, including a Chief Economist, Chief Technologist, and a Deputy Register.