Congress Using Lame Duck Session To Push Through Awful Plan To Politicize The Copyright Office
from the don't-do-this dept
I explain all the details below, but the short version is that Hollywood is trying to use the lame duck Congress session to push through a bill that would be very bad for copyright, and would politicize the Copyright Office. EFF has an action page where you can tell Congress not to do this. The bigger explanation of all of this is below.
You can’t take your eyes off Congress for a second or they might do something awful. As you may recall, over the past few years, there’s been a huge fight going on concerning who controls the US Copyright Office. Historically, the Copyright Office has been a part of the Library of Congress. In early 2017, I wrote a very long, detailed article for the Verge detailing why the Copyright Office is in the Library of Congress, and why it should stay there. If you’re confused about this, I suggest reading that article. However, for years, many both within the Copyright Office itself, and (more importantly) in the legacy movie and recording industries, have been pushing to get the Copyright Office out of the Library and set up as its own agency (or possibly merged into the Patent and Trademark Office). This would give those special interests a lot more power over the organization, especially as it would make the head of the Copryight Office, the Register of Copyrights, now a Presidentially appointed position, rather than what it is today, where the Register is appointed by the Librarian of Congress.
The previous Register, Maria Pallante, advocated strongly for independence from the Library, and all sorts of rumors started to swirl after Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden (herself only recently appointed) fired Pallante. There was a ridiculous set of conspiracy theories pushed out about this falsely accusing “Google” of engineering the firing of Pallante. This entire narrative was debunked when it later came out that Pallante was almost certainly fired over an astoundingly botched computer system upgrade in which a new computer system that the Office had promised would cost $1.1 million had ballooned (through questionable means) to $11.6 million, and never actually worked and had to be scrapped. On top of that, an Inspector’s General Report suggested that Pallante lied to both Congress and the Library of Congress about the status of that computer system upgrade, claiming that it was going great. Those are fireable offenses. Meanwhile, under Hayden’s leadership, the Copyright Office has actually done a good job upgrading its computer systems.
However, the conspiracy theories around Pallante’s firing gave the Hollywood lobby the momentum they needed to push for a law to remove the Copyright Office from the Library of Congress. Since Pallante was fired, Hayden (who had only taken the job a few months earlier, and who was the first actual librarian to run the Library of Congress, let alone the first black woman to do so), has not appointed a new Register of Copyrights, leaving the “acting” Register, Karyn Temple, in place. No one will state this definitively, but I’ve heard from multiple sources that Hayden was told not to appoint a new Register until after Congress decided what to do with the Copyright Office (with the implied threat being that if Hayden went ahead and did her actual job and appointed a Register, Congress would look negatively on such a move and it would almost certainly mean the Copyright Office would be taken away from the Library).
There was a big push last year to try to split the baby on this debate, and, like an actual splitting of a baby, the plan was ridiculous. It wouldn’t technically take the Copyright Office out of the Library, but it would take away the Librarian’s ability to appoint the head of the Copyright Office. Instead, it would become a Presidentially appointed position, which would effectively politicize the office at a time when the last thing we should want is a Copyright Office that is bowing to the whims of whoever is in the Oval Office.
There is no reason, whatsoever, to do this right now. First of all, we have a President who, two years into office, still has only filled 378 of the 704 key positions he’s supposed to fill (with 129 still having no nominee at all). It’s hard to see how it makes any sense to add yet another position to the list he has to fill when he doesn’t seem particularly interested in actually appointing people.
Furthermore, while supporters of this move falsely claim it’s necessary to help “modernize” the Copyright Office, this ignores that, under Hayden, the Office has been modernizing (and that Hayden has experience modernizing a massively large library system in the past). Furthermore, this move would take away Hayden’s abilities to hold the Register accountable — which seems important given how she discovered Pallante’s management problems before. And, of course, there’s the general optics of a bunch of old white men in Congress stripping the first black, female Librarian of Congress of the same authority that every previous Librarian (all white men) had had.
Anyway, as the EFF action page explains, the House has already passed the “Register of Copyright Selection and Accountability Act” and now it’s the Senate’s decision. With little fanfare (and little expectation this would happen), the Senate decided to vote on this tomorrow to get it out of Committee, and then will likely to try to hide it in the “must pass” end of year appropriation’s bill. In other words, the lame duck Congress may give Hollywood a huge gift and politicize the Copyright Office. Tell them not to do this.