Why Is Congress In Such A Rush To Strip The Library Of Congress Of Oversight Powers On The Copyright Office?
from the what's-the-hurry? dept
In the past few weeks, we've written a few times about this weird urgency among some in Congress to rush through a pretty major change to Copyright Office oversight. I wrote a deep dive piece over at The Verge discussing the issues at play, but Congress is pushing a bill to stop the new Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, from appointing a new head of the Copyright Office. Instead, the Congressional plan is to make the position a political appointee, nominated by the President, and approved by Congress. In that Verge piece, we explained why it was a major change, and scratched our heads at the fact that there appears to be no reason for pushing for this change other than (1) the legacy copyright industries know that their lobbying power will mean that the appointment will be to their liking and (2) they fear who Hayden might appoint. But, what's really odd is how quickly Congress is trying to push this through. As if the matter is incredibly urgent. There have been no hearings on the matter. There's been no public discussion on the pros and cons of such a move. Just a mad dash by a bunch of people in Congress to make this change official before Hayden can appoint someone.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren -- who appears to be one of the few people in Congress questioning why this is happening -- has put out a statement highlighting why this move is so problematic. A key point: if there is such a rush to make the change, how does it make sense to put this appointment power in the hands of a President who has left hundreds of federal jobs completely empty without any nominations at all?
... this legislation will harm and delay much-needed modernization efforts by making the Register a Presidentially appointed position. Currently, there is a backlog of 495 Appointee positions that have not even been nominated. This not only will delay effective administration of the Copyright Office, but also puts the efficiency gains made by the Library at risk. Under current modernization plans, the Library believes it can speed up the modernization plan by almost two years and save significant amounts of money. Those plans depend on an active Register of Copyright who is compliant and accountable to the Librarian. The long delay created by this bill in needing Senate confirmation of a Register will only harm these efforts.
In other words, the arguments for "urgency" because the Copyright Register position is currently vacant are undermining their own argument. Considering the nearly 500 federal government positions that have no nominees yet, who actually thinks that Trump will quickly get around to nominating a new Copyright Register, let alone having that person confirmed by the Senate? The current Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, on the other hand, has been reviewing candidates for months now and is likely close to having someone in place.
Similarly, as noted above, if (as is the typical line) this move is necessary to "modernize the Copyright Office," this plan does the exact opposite of that. Hayden has already put forth a plan to modernize the Copyright Office (and has experience modernizing a massive library system). But if the Copyright Office boss has to be nominated by a President who doesn't seem to feel like nominating anyone, and then approved by the Senate, the modernization plan will almost certainly be delayed. So why are supporters of this bill in such a rush if it's going to undermine and delay the key reason they give for supporting this bill: the modernization of the Copyright Office? It's almost as if that's not the real reason.
Separately, Lofgren points out that it's crazy to provide less oversight to the Copyright Office right after it's been revealed that one reason why Hayden likely fired the the previous Copyright Register was because of incredible mismanagement by the previous Register, that included a modernization program that was budgeted for less than $2 million, but ended up spending nearly $12 million before being dumped with nothing to show for it (as we first revealed here on Techdirt).
Removing Dr. Hayden’s ability to appoint the Register of Copyrights means she will be unable to hold employees accountable, and it creates uncertainty and ambiguity in the chain of command between the Librarian and Register of Copyrights.
The previous Register of Copyrights was removed after a Library of Congress Inspector General report found the Copyright Office not only wasted six years and nearly $12 million but hid this information from Congress, falsified information in reports to the Library, and submitted fake budget numbers for annual appropriations requests.
Dr. Hayden took appropriate steps to remove the Register responsible for this mismanagement. This bill would prevent Dr. Hayden from removing or ensuring accountability in any future Register by making the Register answerable only to the President -- a fundamental change in the relationship between Librarian and Register.
Finally, Lofgren notes that it certainly is at least notable and unfortunate that this move to rush through this change certainly appears to be an attempt by Congress to undermine the authority of the first female and first African American Librarian of Congress.
Finally, the bill is a clear affront to the first female Librarian of Congress. Dr. Carla Hayden is not only one of the most highly qualified Librarians ever to serve, but has also worked aggressively and in good faith to pull the Library and Copyright office into the 21st century. I find it deeply disturbing that for the first time in history, a female and a person of color is the Librarian of Congress, and for the first time in history, Congress would take away her power in order to give it to Donald Trump. While this does not point to motive, it is a distressing fact nevertheless.
This bill is a vote of ‘no confidence’ in a Librarian who is aggressively pulling the Library and Copyright Office into the 21st century and, by all evidence, justifiably reassigned an ineffective and negligent Register. It will only serve to delay Copyright Office modernization, harm the public, harm content creators, increase tension between the Library and Copyright Office, and harm Copyright Office employees.
Indeed. There are certainly arguments to be made for changing things up, but no one pushing for this bill seems to be able to answer why this needs to be changed so quickly, when such a change clearly undermines their own stated reasons for supporting the bill. From that, the most logical conclusion is that they are pushing for the change because they are worried about who Hayden is likely to appoint, rather than because of any principled argument.