We've expressed significant concerns about the Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante, and her statements that copyright is for the author first. This isn't the first time we've had concerns about Pallante, who also strongly supported SOPA and testified at the House Judiciary Committee hearing in favor of SOPA. Usually, the heads of government agencies don't take specific positions on bills, especially when that position appears to favor one particular set of stakeholders over others. It certainly raises significant questions over the impartiality of the office.
Thankfully, some in Congress are noticing. Rep. Zoe Lofgren recently quizzed Pallante about these statements and about her testimony, during a House Oversight Committee meeting concerning the Library of Congress (which is in charge of the Copyright Office). Lofgren also dropped a bit of a bombshell, noting that the day before Pallante testified in favor of SOPA she was hanging out in Hollywood with top lawyers from the major MPAA studios. Pallante played it off as an attempt to talk more directly to stakeholders rather than lobbyists -- as if the top lawyers at the studios don't already have plenty of access with the Copyright Office and other government officials.
Lofgren also asked about Pallante's comments, which we mentioned above, about copyright being for the artist first. Pallante noted that her oath of office requires her to uphold the Constitution, and then cites the Supreme Court's ruling in Eldred and Golan as agreeing with her interpretation. Just listening to it, I started to get annoyed, and, thankfully, so did Lofgren, who immediately pointed out that Pallante's comments were "a real misstatement of the Eldred case," which was only about Congress' authority in determining the structure of copyright law."
Later, Lofgren had a chance to offer a second question. There, she discussed a meeting Pallante had with two more big SOPA supporters: the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers in New York in December last year. Similar to the meetings with studios, Lofgren asked for details of such a meeting. She then asked about Pallante's questionable comments to the AAP which we reported on at the same time as her comments about her interpretation of copyright law. Lofgren asked if Pallante thinks it's part of her job to preserve "a particular form of copyright works... or industry business model" in response to Pallante's claims that she can't imagine a world without books. Pallante's response was a bit condescending, saying she wasn't talking about "a particular format of books -- I was talking about books."
It's good to see Congress recognizing that the Register of Copyrights seems impossibly biased in favor of specific industries, rather than actually paying attention to the purpose of copyright law: to benefit the public.