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.
The real reasons why Maria Pallante was reassigned within the Copyright Office are unknown (at least to me, and to everyone I’ve talked to, including people who are better placed than I am to know). However, what’s certain is that Artists Rights Watch’s post is baseless conspiracy mongering, with the only “evidence” being a thin thread of circumstantial steps, such as: Public Knowledge published a whitepaper highly critical of the media industry’s influence on the Copyright Office; Public Knowledge is funded by (and usually, on copyright issues, aligned with) Google; therefore Google must have had something to do with Pallante’s ouster.
The phrase “The White House may very well have been instructed to fire Pallante by Google lobbyist … ” shows how out of touch ARW is on this issue. Carla Hayden reassigned Maria Pallante. Hayden is appointed by the president, true, but she answers to Congress, not the president.
The only plausible theory I’ve heard is that Pallante had been pushing to remove the Copyright Office from its organizational perch within the Library of Congress to somewhere within the executive branch — the most logical place being the Commerce Department, where the Patent and Trademark Office sits. Maybe Hayden wants to keep control of the Office within the LoC, and maybe that was the source of a fundamental disagreement between the two. But the bottom line is although we don’t know for sure, this Google conspiracy theory sounds like a bridge too far.
There real story is in the so called reassignment letter. It’s not been leaked. It’s just such an F — you. To still refer to it as a reassignment is completely absurd. Not sure how LOC terminations get reviewed but in virtually any other business this would lead to a constructive termination lawsuit. The Librarian literally put Pallante in charge of LOC retail operations. From Register of Copyright overseeing the souvenir shop? Sure she got some fancy title. But she had to move her office not talk to anyone and could only report to the librarian and her assistant. Wow wow wow. You really have to read the assignment letter. Once you do that rethink everything. right here: https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3179251/Pallante-New-Position-Description.pdf
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it’s now been leaked. typo on second sentence.
I agree. We (at least I) still don’t know the Librarian’s specific motivation, but the termination letter reads to me like a way of firing someone without actually firing them while lowering your risk of being sued for wrongful termination.
On the one hand, this is not the classic “You are being promoted to the position of VP of Sanitation Engineering for Siberia” ploy. It’s more like “Here is a new job that gets you away from where I didn’t want you but makes full use of your skills and experience.”
I am not a labor law expert (AT ALL), but I did have a close friend who got into a similar situation at a big tech company after it got acquired by a bigger tech company. He was an SVP with worldwide responsibility who had been at the company for a very long time. He was reassigned to the position of “SVP of Digging Through the Trash With Your Bare Hands for A Small Town in Siberia.” He threatened to sue and the company capitulated immediately with a monetary settlement, and he left. I got the idea that his reassignment to a job that was not commensurate with his skills and experience was considered fodder for a lawsuit.
What I read from this is that Pallante’s “new responsibilities” were designed to close off any avenue of complaint about skills and experience. The fact that she resigned immediately was no surprise.
@Bill: I agree. As we both have noted, Maria Pallante wants the copyright office broken away from LoC, and while we don’t know for certain, this sounds like a far more credible explanation than ARW’s Google theory.
Yeah, but the problem is that ARW’s post has gotten a lot of airplay, particularly on “Google is the root of all evil” sites but at any rate more than it deserves.
A better source would be the article in Billboard, http://www.billboard.com/articles/business/7549978/maria-pallante-removed-us-register-of-copyrights, written by Rob Levine, who is well known to have pro-copyright-holder sympathies but engages in actual journalism.
Google is certainly no antagonist of copyright enforcement when that serves its revenue streams. For example, an instructional video I made recently contained a few seconds of a copyrighted film and it was quickly challenged by Google’s YouTube apparatus. I appealed using an educational fair use argument only to have it rejected in under an hour and that judgement attributed to the rights holder (fox guarding chicken coop), not Google or YouTube who now have license to monetize my public domain work.
That sort of thing is not exactly a new issue.
The real issues are far worse that a little DRM—the buyouts that link wireless and cable companies with the companies that create content, including news stories. Lifehacker points to some of the connections.
“Wireless carriers and cable companies have a curious relationship with the media that you watch, stream, and read. The more they grow, the more they want to own the content that their networks bring to you, controlling the process from start to finish. Perhaps the biggest example of this is Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal in 2011.”
This isn’t just owning the creation and distribution of entertainment. It’s about owning the news outlets that might otherwise be critical of these vertical monopolies.
This issue also has a host of cultural ramifications. How do you get more people watching your entertainment and eating the junk food that’s advertised with it? Jobs keep people busy. Education raises their aspirations. You create a growing class of badly educated couch potatoes who, since they don’t work, have lots of time to consume. The movie WALL-E suggested that:
I find that scarily prophetic.
That’s my own explanation why the tech companies seem so unconcerned about the downside of their moves to automate one of the best-paying of the remaining blue-collar jobs—trucking and package delivery. They assume Joe Sixpack, laid off from UPS, will be happy earning one quarter as much on the dole and spending all his time on Netflix or playing Grand Theft Auto. He won’t care that the dole doesn’t pay enough to buy a new pickup or take the kids on a vacation.
If that assumption proves untrue, we’re in for a heck of a lot of trouble. It will make the Luddite era look like nothing.
Keep in mind that in that era the poor couldn’t vote and lacked the resources to fight back. Only the British Army had guns. Also, that was an era when the more assertive and dissatisfied fled to the New World.
I’m starting to understand what lay behind the TV episode that became the last network TV I watched. In it, two thugs armed with sharpened screwdrivers that could kill in an instant threatened the passengers on a NYC subway. Then two shots ring out. One thug was dead. The other is paralyzed with a bullet in his spine.
If this had be a successful mugging, the authorities would have done little. But in this case, a citizen had dared to act in self-defense. That could not be. But they ran into a barrier. The shooter had fled. None of the remaining victims “remembered” who’d fired the shots. They claimed to know nothing. Bravo for them, I thought.
Sparing no expense, the authorities used surveillance cameras to track down the shooter. It turned out to be a young woman whose dancing career had been wrecked when she’d been brutally raped and beatened. After that, she’d purchased a gun, illegal for her in NYC, and trained to use it. We were apparently supposed to be shocked that she not only practiced against human-shaped targets, she often targeted the groin of these posters of male attackers. I thought, “Way to go, girl!” For me, that girl should have gotten the keys to the city and $10,000 worth of gift certificates at various stores.
How will the script writers solve the problem they’ve created?, I thought. They did it quite vilely. If I recalled correctly, she was sentenced to 1200 hours of community service. The muggers, if they’d been successful and caught, would have gotten off far more lightly.
Perhaps you see why that became the last network TV show I watched. I realized that I live in a moral universe where self-defense is an inalienable right. The networks, to a great extent, live in one that, like NYC itself, is where self-defense is only the right of the well-heeled and politicians and not young girls who want to become dancers.
Pound that message out in enough TV shows, these people think, and that will take all the fight out of most people. Dancers will endure being raped and beaten (think Bill Clinton). Joe Sixpack will suffer his unemployment is sullen silence (think coal miners under Obama). That’s certainly what the elites are hoping for in world that will bear no small resemblance to The Hunger Games.
I certainly hope they prove wrong. I have a contrary POV, that of the 1952 movie, “High Noon” and these lyrics:
I do not know what fate awaits me
I only know I must be brave
And I must face a man who hates me
Or lie a coward, a craven coward
Or lie a coward in my grave
Let’s hope these creeps who want to reduce free citizens to mere consumers of their DRMed entertainment fail.
Techdirt suggests that all the conspiracy theorists are barking up the wrong tree, and the reassignment/resignation came about simply because Hayden was annoyed that Pallante, her nominal subordinate, was publicly agitating for Congress to remove the Copyright Office from the Library of Congress altogether and make it its own thing.
This seems like a more reasonable theory to me. Not everything that happens has to have Google’s fingerprints all over it. Or Amazon’s, for that matter.
Google profits enormously from a gaping hole in the DMCA called the Safe Harbor. The majority of work on You Tube – which is the largest video service that clearly has monopoly status – is there without the consent of or compensation to creators. Google has spent a great deal to defend the status quo here for obvious reason. No business model is better than being able to use the work of other parties without permission or compensation. Google has also defended an antiquated Consent Decree that benefits Google and Pandora’ two companies with mutual interests. And this is just in the area of music. Google has interests of stretching and distorting fair use to the detriment of authors and other creators. Google also made clear it wanted to decide the laws governing Video tv boxes in a way that would short change the creators. Google also has a revolving door to government and lobbies the White house more than any other company. Pallante dared to question the interests of Google on these matters – the richest and most powerful company in the world. So she had to be removed. This firing has Google written all over it, plain and simple. I expect to see a Google Shill installed to replace her. What Google wants Google gets.