Carla Hayden, the new librarian of Congress, has removed Maria Pallante as the U.S. register of copyrights.

Dr. Hayden has appointed Pallante as “senior advisor for digital strategy,” but given the circumstances of the shakeup, Pallante may not hang around LoC for long, assuming she hasn’t left already.

The ouster has enraged Pallante’s friends in the copyright industry. Artist Rights Watch blamed Google’s influence on the White House:

In a typically backstabbing lame duck kabuki dance, Google has fired Maria Pallante, the head of the U.S. Copyright Office. This is a real tragedy because Register Pallante was even handed and concerned about treating everyone involved with copyright fairly–consumers as well as creators, not to mention cooperating with Google and Amazon in permitting the filing of millions of NOIs to the great detriment of songwriters.

Artists Rights Watch went on to quote Billboard:

Pallante was locked out of her computer this morning, according to two sources who spoke with Library employees. Earlier, [the nominal head of the Library of Congress]  had called several members of Congress to tell them about her decision. Later, she called the heads of several media business trade organizations to give them the news, according to one who received such a call.

The U.S. Constitution says copyright exists to “promote the Progress of Sciences and useful Arts,” but many copyright stalwarts disagree with librarians over the interpretation of the phrase, as shown by their efforts to sever the copyright office from LoC, a change Pallante has championed.

The DRM cracking issue

With Maria Pallante gone from the copyright office, might it be more inclined to grant ebook-lovers an exemption from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to let them legally crack DRM for noninfringing purposes? Especially since proprietary DRM steals away the right to own books for real and modify them so they’re more readable? Not to mention locking readers into certain retailers and vendors and reinforcing Amazon’s dominance of the ebook scene? Or hurting books in the struggle against other media, by making them more difficult to buy, own and enjoy than with no DRM or with watermarking?

Hard to say, about that hoped-for exemption. I myself am not in the least an agent of Google. Rather, along with many a librarian, I see reasons aplenty for applying the doctrine of fair use to the exemption issue and others.

Of course, I won’t bet the farm on things necessarily changing at the copyright office. The new acting register of copyrights is Karyn Temple Claggett, formerly the vice president for litigation and legal affairs for the Recording Industry Association of America. Who knows, however, what the outcome of this will be?

A word for writers, publishers and other creators—and Carla Hayden and Maria Pallante

While I disagree with the copyright interests on such issues as DRM, I fervently believe that professional writers and many other creators are outrageously underpaid, and if certain YouTube contributors are going beyond fair use, why, yes, I would side with the the content people in those cases.  Furthermore, bear in mind that the typical U.S. household spends only $100 or so a year on books and other recreational reading, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—a mere fraction of the several thousand lavished on other forms of entertainment. I’d like to correct that. Just the other day, I urged TeleRead community members to join the Authors Guild. I found Executive Director Mary Rasenberger to be refreshingly open-minded on such matters as the establishment of a national digital endowment.

As for Maria Pallante, I know her very slightly from many years ago, when she was with the National Writers Union and we sat near each other at a copyright-related hearing. I’d love to see Maria and Dr. Hayden reconcile.

What better use of the former’s considerable talents than to set her loose—as a digital strategy advisor for LoC—to work with libraries around the nation toward such endowment? The cash is there. Just ten Americans are worth more than a half a trillion dollars. An endowment of $20 billion within five years would need just a crumb of a crumb of that, and the cause would jibe magnificently with the Gates Giving pledge. Maria and her friends in the copyright industries have a certain verve that many possible angels might find appealing.

Simply put, the way to help creators is to grow the size of the pie, not worry so much about the division of every little slice. Among many other things, the endowment could pay for well-targeted spots in major media to promote individual titles, not just local and national libraries and reading in general. Needless to say, the endowment could help the cause of family literacy—one way to expand the book market—and of course provide libraries with the resources to compensate creators fairly. Please, Maria. Let’s not limit “digital strategy” just to matters of law. LoC has collected more than $350 million in private donations since 1987, but that’s an average of only around $12 million annually even if it’s been greater in recent years. A well-run endowment, perhaps starting out as a nonprofit, then turning into a public agency for greater transparency and responsiveness, could fare much better and share the wealth with libraries throughout the country rather than just LoC alone, especially with the efficiencies of digital technology.

Related: Justice Department leaves music consent decrees in place; music industry complains, a post from TeleRead Editor Chris Meadows.

Image credit: Here.