Newly Leaked Documents Expose Stunning Waste And Incompetence At The Copyright Office

from the this-makes-no-sense dept

Previously unreleased documents acquired by Techdirt show, fairly conclusively, that Congress will be making a huge and dangerous mistake if it moves forward with changing how the head of the Copyright Office is appointed. And despite the fact that the RIAA & MPAA are eagerly supporting this change, the people it will hurt the most are content creators. Because the Copyright Office is basically incompetent when it comes to modernizing its technology. That’s what was found by a thorough (but not publicly released) Inspector General’s report, detailing how the Copyright Office not only threw away $11.6 million on a new computer system that it said would cost $1.1 million, but also lied to both Congress and the Library of Congress about it, pretending everything was going great.

In reality the project was a complete and utter disaster. It was put together by people who seemed to have no clue how to manage a large IT project, and there was basically zero effort to fix that along the way. After literally wasting $11.6 million on nothing, the entire project was scrapped in October of last year.

The timing here is important. October is when Carla Hayden reassigned Maria Pallante, effectively firing her. Pallante had led the Copyright Office since 2011 (soon after the big project began), so she was in charge through the vast majority of this disastrous project. While legacy copyright folks tried to spread evidence-free conspiracy theories about why Hayden fired Pallante, it seems a lot more likely that it was because Pallante had overseen a project that flat out wasted $11.6 million, and during the course of the project the Copyright Office repeatedly lied to the Library of Congress about its status.

But here’s the astounding thing. Congress is trying to reward the Copyright Office for this scandal, and give it more power and autonomy despite this absolute disaster. Perhaps because, until now, the Copyright Office has been successful in keeping this whole thing hidden.

As we’ve mentioned, Congress is effectively trying to move the Copyright Office out of the Library of Congress by having the new Register of Copyright (who heads the Office) be appointed by the President and approved by the Senate (i.e., making it a political appointee), rather than be appointed by the Librarian of Congress as has been the case since the creation of the Copyright Office. One of the key arguments in favor of this is that the Copyright Office is woefully behind on technology, and needs to be modernized. Almost exactly two years ago, a fairly scathing report from the GAO came out about the lack of leadership on IT issues from then-Librarian of Congress James Billington. Thankfully, Billington is gone and Carla Hayden is in charge now — and she actually has a history of modernizing a library. Reports from folks at the Library say that Hayden has moved quickly to establish a real modernization plan for the entire Library, including the Copyright Office, and that those efforts are already starting to move forward.

And that’s got to be better than giving the Copyright Office autonomy to modernize itself. As we’re releasing here for the very first time publicly, an Inspector’s General report looking at various IT projects related to the Library of Congress is absolutely devastating in revealing how incompetent the Copyright Office is at modernizing itself. Specifically, in 2010, the Copyright Office asked for $1.1 million it said it would need to build its Electronic Licensing System (eLi). Just about everything turned out to be a complete disaster and a waste of money. From the executive summary of the report:

[The Copyright Office] did not follow sound [Systems Development Life Cycle — SDLC] methodologies which resulted in it scrapping the eLi project development after six years and $11.6M in project expenditures. The eLi project began in 2010 with a budget approval of $1.1M, and increased to approximately $2M for full implementation in 2012. Ultimately Copyright spent over $11.6M through 2016 when it decided to terminate the contracts and abandon development activities. During that six-year period, Copyright continued to report in eLCplans (the Library’s performance management system) that eLi development was occurring near or on schedule.

Again, this is horrifying. Not only did it waste more than 5x what it had been given budget approval for, and not only did it end up with nothing to show for all this money, it also lied about how the project was going so those in the Library of Congress had no idea that the Copyright Office was basically lighting money on fire. It also appears that because of this, the Copryight Office misrepresented what was happening to Congress in its annual budget requests. From the report:

Copyright executives at that time did not disclose in the Library’s performance management system (eLCplans) and annual Congressional Budget Justifications the magnitude of issues and cost overruns related to the project. As a result, Congress and Library executives did not have adequate information to timely act on and address the issues.

Again, forget those conspiracy theories about Pallante getting fired. Lying to your bosses in your annual budget requests about the status of a massive technology project that was way behind and way over budget certainly seems like a fireable offense.

A big part of the problem? What appears to be near-total incompetence by the Copyright Office in putting together and managing the project.

The USCO project management team did not demonstrate effective, proactive project cost management practices. Over the six-year development period, USCO project management expended $11.6 million in vendor costs. The USCo project management team received specific funding for approximately $1.9 million in the first two years of the project. USCO project management did not update project budgets for the subsequent six years of development activity, nor perform an analysis of estimated cost overruns. Subsequent development funding activites ocurred, inconsistent with initial funding requests. As discussed below, the USCO had no management body to evaluate and approve additional funding requests in conjunction with experienced development delays, analyses, and recommended courses of actions. Additionally, the USCO did not have an oversight body with authority to halt project activites based on cost overruns, delviery delays, and/or lack of functionality until appropriate remediation plans or project management structure was in place.

Basically, the ship was almost entirely rudderless when Pallante was in charge. Ask for $1.9 million, spend $11.6 million — without getting a working system — and no one seemed to check on any of it.

According to the report, the most basic project management concepts were completely lacking at the Copyright Office. Pages 26 through 28 of the document embedded below should elicit gasps from anyone who’s done any kind of project management. I won’t detail all of it, but here are just a few highlights:

  • No monitoring of the project schedule
  • No project budget approval process at all
  • No periodic reviews to see if things were on schedule and within budget
  • No project management framework at all
  • No comprehensive project management plan for the executiion and monitoring of the project.
  • No official tracking of scope and schedule changes
  • No documentation of departures from planned schedule
  • No plan for what staffing was needed for the project
  • No analysis of alternatives
  • No system requirements baseline
  • No system development plan
  • No requirements for best practices, customer oversight or acceptance of the vendor
  • No technical requirements to ensure user functionality given to the vendor
  • No details on deliverables given to the vendor (seriously — no requirements to hand over the code or any documentation)
  • No review criteria
  • No defined technical framework
  • No security testing

And, again, that’s just some of the problems listed in the document. There are more.

Rather than admit any of that, the Copyright Office under Pallante pretended each year that everything was moving ahead without a problem. The report includes the comments that the Copyright Office gave to the Library of Congress each year for its Congressional Budget Justification regarding the system:

If you can’t see that, basically every year all the Copyright Office said was “licensing will continue implementing and refining the reengineered processes and system” (or, in the past two years, that “licensing will continue to work toward a fully automated system for receiving and examining Statements of Account”). This despite the fact that the project was way over budget and apparently totally non-functional.

The report also includes the Copyright Office’s internal reporting to the Library, in which it needed to give a status report in one of three color codings: green if the project was on-track, amber if it was behind target but adjustments could result in accomplishing the plan on time, and red if it would not meet the annual target. Given what we know now, these should have been red every year. Instead… in 2011, 2013, and 2015 the Copyright Office reported “green.” In 2012 it reported “amber.” In 2010, 2014, and 2016 the Copyright Office didn’t even bother to report on this project status at all.

The most amazing thing here is that Pallante wasn’t fired years ago for this complete disaster of a project.

But the more important question right now is why would Congress be looking to give the Copyright Office more autonomy when it’s quite clear that the Office has absolutely no competency when it comes to modernizing its system, and there has been a six-year pattern of throwing away money without a properly managed plan and a longstanding practice of lying about it to Congress itself?

Last week, despite all of this, nearly the entire House Judiciary Committee voted to let this happen, and all I can ask is what were they thinking? Why is Congress — and Reps. Bob Goodlatte and John Conyers in particular — rewarding this behavior?

At the request of the Library of Congress’ Inspector General’s Office, we have made a few small redactions to parts of the report that were not related to this story above.

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Comments on “Newly Leaked Documents Expose Stunning Waste And Incompetence At The Copyright Office”

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56 Comments
Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Why, the Copyright Office is so incompetent / evil that we need to rip the Copyright Clause out of the Constitution!

No need to rip anything out of the Constitution to eliminate Copyright. It only says that Congress has the power. Congress can elect to not exercise that power any time it wants.

Then, you know that…don’t you?

Flag!

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Why, the Copyright Office is so incompetent / evil that we need to rip the Copyright Clause out of the Constitution!

“Flagging a comment merely because you disagree with it”

Fortunately, the community here flagged the comment because of the tired personal attack against the author, and not because they disagreed with his usual ranting nonsense.

“So much for freedom of information on the Net.”

You’re free to go anywhere on the net. This particular site doesn’t have to accept people attacking the community and its authors if they don’t wish. Many other communities are available.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

yes, it’s hardly a “stunning” indictment of the Copyright Office that they had a failed IT project, wasting $11.6M.

Failed Information Technology projects are routine in the Federal government, often wasting hundreds of millions of dollars. $11.6M is peanuts.

(Google government failed computer projects)

Waste and Incompetence are hallmarks of government — just take a look at the U.S. Congress

That One Guy (profile) says:

You have to ask?

Last week, despite all of this, nearly the entire House Judiciary Committee voted to let this happen, and all I can ask is what were they thinking? Why is Congress — and Reps. Bob Goodlatte and John Conyers in particular — rewarding this behavior?

Good question, perhaps it has something to do with this:

As we’ve mentioned, Congress is effectively trying to move the Copyright Office out of the Library of Congress by having the new Register of Copyright (who heads the Office) be appointed by the President and approved by the Senate (i.e., making it a political appointee)

If they control who’s appointed then they have power over the office and who runs it, and in turn that’s likely to get the attention(and money) of those who have their own ideas as to who should be in charge of the Copyright Office.

Power and money, seems simple enough.

andrew_duane (profile) says:

"But the more important question right now is why would Congress be looking to give the Copyright Office more autonomy when it’s quite clear that the Office has absolutely no competency when it comes to modernizing its system, and there has been a six-year pattern of throwing away money without a properly managed plan and a longstanding practice of lying about it to Congress itself?"

Sounds like Congress figured out they are perfectly suited to overseeing themselves, saving Congress the trouble of lacking all competency and then lying about it….

Joel Coehoorn says:

Answered your own question

The most amazing thing here is that Pallante wasn’t fired years ago for this complete disaster of a project.

But the more important question right now is why would Congress be looking to give the Copyright Office more autonomy when it’s quite clear that the Office has absolutely no competency when it comes to modernizing its system

You answered your own question: a project failure like this has some responsibility further up the chain as well.

The USCO still needs modernization; now it’s even further behind, because another 5 years have passed with no updates. With Pallante out, the new leadership might have as good a chance of accomplishing that goal as anyone, except that part of the problem was a poor hire and subsequent lack of oversight within the Library. Pulling this office to the side so someone else selects the USCO leadership and it can be monitored more closely by the top level administration makes some sense.

That said, there’s also a new Librarian, so this is probably no longer needed. If it were still business as usual at the LoC, I might give it more support.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Library of Congress Failed Too

If an underling that is trusted to do a job hides what they are doing wrong you won’t know about it until it is too late. And igneous constantly look over the shoulder of said underling you might as well forget your own work because you are micromanaging them and don’t have time for your own responsibilities.

Also by that logic all us Americans are at fault becauwe we originally elected the people that established the library and copyright office. When was the last time you hovered over the shoulder of your elected officials to oversee every little detail of their job?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Library of Congress Failed Too

Bad analogy. I am not paid to watch the Copyright Office. The Library of Congress is paid to do that.

Also, if they said things were progressing, all one has to do is to ask for a demo of what they have so far. Evidently, they didn’t even go that far.

The Library of Congress failed completely. Why should they be rewarded for NOT doing their job?

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It is true that $11 million is a drop in the ocean.

But it is over 3 times the amount spent yearly for Meals on Wheels that Trump wants to cancel to ensure that some seniors starve.

Or compare that amount to the cost of keeping children from starving at school. Or from starving at home.

And $11 million is what the taxpayers spend for more than three useless weekend golfing trips to Mar a Logo to help personally enrich the president and his businesses.

David says:

Absurd complaint.

If you want to complain about waste and incompetence, you’ll find enough people in your street having voted for Trump. They had one job that needed to be done right, and they bungled it starting with the primaries.

And vote results will only get worse as the U.S. falls apart into people who cannot afford an education because they are too poor and people who cannot appreciate an education because they are too rich, and very little in between.

Anonymous Coward says:

For the record, this is another case where my comments were only let out of "Moderation" late in order to discredit.

Didn’t appear soon, so as you see from time stamps I tried again after couple hours based on experience that they’d never appear otherwise.

Since Techdirt doesn’t ever respond or explain or even admit that any comments are suppressed out of sight, there’s no other explanation than that it’s intentional and targeted manipulation. I don’t mind creating this visible record, though.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: For the record, this is another case where my comments were only let out of

I think I engaged tge artucle completely.

Government waste is luke human waste, much us made everyday and most of us don’t think about it much except when we need to. Pointing out 11 million ib waste over 6 years is such a small potatoes issue as to not be worth a mention.

Well, if you have an agenda to destroy copyright, then you blow every small thing into a massive story with plenty of outrage and point format damnation.

Engaged enough for you?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 For the record, this is another case where my comments were only let out of

It’s more telling that you think millions of dollars wasted is not only permissible, but should be ignored – and the only reason why you wouldn’t do so is because you apparently have an agenda.

(And yes, this is engaged. Sort of borderline, still needlessly passive-aggressive, but it’s a step up from your Prenda defenses.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 For the record, this is another case where my comments were only let out of

And this magically goes from “yes, we should take a closer look at the system to prevent this waste” to “remove copyright” how, aside from your apparent online boner to whine about Masnick at every possible opportunity?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 For the record, this is another case where my comments were only let out of

It’s a general inability to understand what’s actually being said. Some people simply can’t understand anything between “lock everything down no matter the collateral damage” and “abolish copyright and pirate everything”. They can’t understand more subtle positions such as “copyright desperately needs reform but is still necessary” and “there’s a lot of ways companies can enforce copyright and make a profit without attacking their own customer base”.

Such nuance is beyond them, so they then seem to develop an irrational hated of people who have never supported either position and attack increasingly ridiculous fictional versions of what others say.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 For the record, this is another case where my comments were only let out of

“Pointing out 11 million ib waste over 6 years is such a small potatoes issue as to not be worth a mention.”

Actually, I kind of agree. $11 million is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of money wasted on ineffective “enforcement” of copyright, the money lost through shutting down or discouraging innovation and the loss of civil liberties being perpetrated to protect dated broken business models. A reform of copyright rules to match the realities of the modern marketplace, while placing the needs of artists and consumers above those of corporations would be much more welcome.

Somehow, I don’t think that’s what you were going for, through. You moan and lie about the articles talking about those things too.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 For the record, this is another case where my comments were only let out of

Apparently, when the copyright enforcement arm wastes millions of dollars, it’s small potatoes. When performance rights organizations owe millions in royalties to the artists they represent, it’s not considered a significant amount (let alone one that constitutes fraud). When copyright plaintiffs are asked to foot the bill for defendant’s fees, even if they lose, it’s a price too high to pay.

And when a kid downloads a song it’s a crime worse than murder.

I know copyright fans have always had a messed up sense of scale and priority, but this is going beyond the pale.

Josh Taylor, creator of Interracial Progress says:

They're content thieves, not creators

” the people it will hurt the most are content creators.”

They’re not content creators. They’re content thieves. They steal a true creator’s inspiration and put a financial burden on the creators and their spouses and children.

Copyright isn’t about capitalism or protection of a person’s reputation. Copyright protects a creator’s inspiration.

They make unauthorized fan works which hurts the creator’s inspiration and it’s time to put a stop to it. I urge Congress to pass HR 1695 real quick so that all creators’ inspiration be copyright protected.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If your operations are run in such a way that leaving the lights on in a single storage room would cost eleven million dollars, most people would agree that your operations need looking at.

Or at the very least the part of your system regarding storage room lights. What the fuck do you burn in those lights? Unicorn blood?

My_Name_Here says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually, it is… the framework from which copyright is drawn is there…

“Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution, known as the Copyright Clause, empowers the United States Congress: To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

Sorry Mr Trump.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”

Well, as often stated here, there’s some very good arguments that the current copyright regime does nothing of the sort, and is often actually counter to those claims. Certainly things like extending copyright to effectively infinite terms (where nobody will ever live to see an artwork created in their lifetime go into the public domain) directly oppose the spirit, if not the letter of that statement.

That being the case, it would ironically be enforcing the constitution that would achieve the actual reform aims stated by Mike, not removing that clause.

Laura Quilter (profile) says:

total govt waste not the point

Folks who are saying, “Hey, $11.6 million wasted is a drop in the bucket of total federal government waste” are missing the point, which is that:

It is NOT a drop in the bucket of the total Copyright Office budget, which in 2015 was $47.5M (https://www.copyright.gov/reports/annual/2015/ar2015.pdf). If it’s a little under $2M per year wasted, then that’s about 4% of the CO’s annual budget wasted, or one out of every 25 dollars.

“A million here, a million there — pretty soon you’re talking real money.”

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