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Concern and confusion at the US Copyright Office

Maria Pallante becoming the first US register of copyrights to be unwillingly removed from the role has led to a big backlash

Pallante MariaUS Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden dropped a bombshell on Friday with the news she had appointed Maria Pallante – who had served as US register of copyrights since 2011 – as senior advisor for digital strategy with Karyn Temple Claggett becoming acting register of copyrights. The register of copryrights runs the Copyright Office.

The news has not gone down well in many quarters, not least with Pallante herself. She has reportedly refused the role and resigned from the Library of Congress.

According to Billboard: “But Pallante wasn’t told about the appointment before it was announced, according to several sources, and she never accepted it. She was locked out of the Library of Congress computer system, a step that several former Copyright Office staffers say is extremely unusual. (The Library of Congress did not comment and attempts to reach Pallante were unsuccessful.) Pallante submitted her resignation on Monday, October 24.”

“Surprised and concerned”

The decision from Hayden – who was confirmed as Librarian of Congress in June – has led many to express concern.

The Billboard story quoted Marybeth Peters, resister of copyright from 1994 to 2010, as saying: “People I know who care about copyright are very disturbed. Nothing like this has ever happened there before.”

Copyright Alliance CEO Keith Kupferschmid thanked Pallante for her service, praised her commitment to evidence-driven policymaking and said her public involvement in the policy process should serve as a model.

“We are surprised and concerned by today’s news, which comes at a time when the Office and others are considering many potential changes to the copyright system and law,” said Kupferschmid

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Ranking Member John Conyers issued a joint statement. “We are saddened to learn that Maria Pallante, who served with distinction as only the 12th Register of Copyrights and the Director of the Copyright Office for the last five years, will be leaving the Copyright Office. This will be a tremendous loss for the Copyright Office and for America’s creators, innovators, and users of copyrighted works.”

They highlighted working closely with Pallante over the last few years as the House Judiciary Committee conducted a comprehensive review of US copyright law to determine whether the law is still working in the digital age to reward creativity and innovation. 

“As Maria transitions from the Copyright Office, it is the perfect opportunity to examine the selection process for the new Register,” they said. “The new Register of Copyrights should be dedicated to protecting creative rights and modernizing the Copyright Office.” 

The Authors Guild also said it was “disappointed to see Pallante go”.

Now attention turns to what happens next. The Billboard article included some speculation.

“Some Washington insiders cautioned that Pallante’s removal may have less to do with an ideological battle than a turf war. Pallante has advocated moving the Copyright Office out of the Library of Congress and making the Register a presidential appointee – which would have taken away one of Hayden’s most important oversight responsibilities. And in Pallante’s reassignment memo (a copy of which was obtained by Billboard from a Washington insider), Hayden gives Pallante jobs that have little to do with her copyright expertise, including identifying ‘retail and licensing opportunities for the Library’. Hayden also writes that ‘I do not anticipate that this assignment will require any communications with Members of Congress or congressional staff,’ an unusual point to make.”

The Patently-O blog noted that the move would renew calls for a unified US intellectual property office.

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