Music artists are reacting with outrage at the dismissal of the head of the U.S. Copyright Office, calling the move an aggressive attack that is part of a larger effort to erode their creative rights and to bolster advocates of free content.
“This is a major affront to copyright,” said songwriter and music publisher Dean Kay. “Google seems to be taking over the world — and politics. . . . Their major position is to allow themselves to use copyright material without remuneration. If the Copyright Office head is toeing the Google line, creators are going to get hurt.”
The Copyright Office administers the complex set of rules governing copyright and advises Congress on policy and legal issues. It is a federal department within the Library of Congress.
New Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden last month abruptly removed Maria Pallante from the position she held since 2011 and reassigned her to a role of “senior adviser.” In a letter to Pallante that was obtained by The Washington Post, Hayden listed Pallante’s new duties, including undertaking a review of the library’s retail operation. The job would require Pallante to file weekly reports to a deputy librarian, Hayden wrote; it would “not require any communications with Members of Congress.” Pallante was told to move out of her office, and people close to the situation in the library reported that she was locked out of her computer.
Pallante resigned three days later. In a letter posted online, she requested the “reinstatement of access to my computer and email.” A library spokesman said she was not denied computer access.
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.
“The librarian wants free content, and the copyright office is there to protect creators of content. They are diametrically opposed ideologies,” Henley said. Hayden, he added, “has a long track record of being an activist librarian who is anti-copyright and a librarian who worked at places funded by Google.”
Hayden declined to be interviewed, although a spokesman referred to her April confirmation hearing, when she told a Senate committee that she would make sure the office functions “in a way that will protect the people it serves, and that is the creators of content.” Pallante did not return several messages and did not come to the door when a reporter knocked last week.
Copyright regulations are more critical and more controversial than ever because of dramatic changes in technology. In one camp are tech and Internet companies that seek exemptions to regulations in their efforts to spark innovation. On the other side are filmmakers, authors, musicians and television producers who want to limit unauthorized content and be paid for their creativity. Many of their representatives, including the Motion Picture Association of America, praised Pallante and advocated for a strong successor.
“It is imperative that the next and future Registers have the expertise, support, resources, and independence to continue the Office’s essential and constitutionally-backed role of advancing the arts by rewarding creators for their work,” Joanna McIntosh, the MPAA’s executive vice president for global policy and external affairs, said in a statement.
Pallante was considered an ally of the film, television, music and publishing industries, which contribute between $750 billion and $1 trillion in annual economic activity and employ more than 5 million people. Last year, she issued a report, “Copyright and the Music Marketplace,” that listed fair compensation to music creators as its first guiding principle. The report also opposed a change in music licensing supported by the Justice Department, noting that “Congress, not the DOJ,” has authority to change the system. She also advised Congress that a Federal Communications Commission proposal requiring cable providers to make their content accessible to third parties appeared to violate copyright regulations.
Kay and Henley say technological changes are undercutting their livelihoods.
“There’s a mind-set that the digital giants have fostered that everything on the Internet should be free,” Henley said. “When they say they want free and open access, that’s code for ‘We want free content.’ ”
“You don’t make any money from recording music anymore,” he added. “The streaming services have wiped out that revenue stream.”
A Google spokesman said the company had no contact with the Library of Congress or the administration about Pallante or the Copyright Office.
Kay said he sees the losses personally and in his publishing business. “It’s all moving digital and streaming, and unless we can straighten things out and get copyright adhered to in terms of paying fairly, we’ll see great damage to all kind of creators,” he said.
But advocates for broad digital access say that Pallante was too cozy with artists and that her focus on their rights came at the expenses of others, including the public. In a recent, sharply critical report that found systemic bias at the Copyright Office, Meredith Rose of the nonprofit group Public Knowledge concluded that the office had aligned itself with the entertainment industry and “regularly disregarded the concerns of . . . libraries, archives and the public at large.”
Public Knowledge, which is funded by Google, according to media reports, released the report in September, before Hayden was sworn in.
“The Copyright Office advertises itself as a research entity, producing reports, but at the same time they very much act as a lobbying arm for content producers,” Rose said.
Julie Todaro, president of the American Library Association, dismissed the idea that Hayden’s library career makes her an automatic adversary to strong copyright enforcement.
“People look at copyright as content providers versus users,” Todaro said. “Technology makes everybody both, so libraries represent and respect both. That’s why we buy $4 billion a year of copyrighted material. Libraries are not about making everything free.”
Pallante’s removal is part of a larger reorganization at the Library of Congress that includes promotions of several key members of former librarian of Congress James H. Billington’s inner circle. Before retiring last year, Billington was sharply criticized by federal investigators who found widespread management failures with the library’s technology. At her Senate confirmation hearing, Hayden pledged to address those shortcomings, especially at the Copyright Office.
Pallante publicly supported a congressional effort to overhaul the Copyright Office and to remove it from the Library of Congress, a position that probably contributed to her dismissal. But Hayden’s reassignment of a popular and well-respected leader could spark renewed interest in the effort to create an independent agency and thus undermine her attempt to control the office.
Several lawmakers responded to Pallante’s departure with disappointment, and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said it “underscores the long-standing challenges” of housing the Copyright Office in the Library of Congress.
“I look forward to exploring this relationship and considering possible legislative actions to ensure the viability of our copyright system,” Hatch said last month.
That would be a silver lining to an otherwise disappointing development, Kay said.
“If the person at the top of the Library of Congress is against copyright,” he said, “then being the manager of the Copyright Office is devastating.”