Remember the ouster of former Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante from the copyright office last year, amid concerns it could lead to a less consumer-friendly copyright office? At the time, I believed the reason might have something to do with Pallante’s outspoken efforts to pull the copyright office out from under the oversight of her boss, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. (Pallante subsequently ended up as President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers.)
However, last week Techdirt acquired a leaked report from the government’s Inspector General. The report, Techdirt’s Mike Masnick writes, details a pattern of “waste and incompetence” at the copyright office under Pallante’s tenure. The report covers a $1.6 million program intended to modernize the Copyright Office’s use of technology, begun shortly before Pallante took over the department in 2011, that ballooned into an $11.6 million boondoggle that the office finally terminated in 2016. During that period, Pallante simply told Congress that the office was continuing to implement the project, with no indication that it was going badly overbudget and not producing any useful results.
According to the report, the most basic project management concepts were completely lacking at the Copyright Office. Pages 26 through 28 of the document embedded below should elicit gasps from anyone who’s done any kind of project management. I won’t detail all of it, but here are just a few highlights:
- No monitoring of the project schedule
- No project budget approval process at all
- No periodic reviews to see if things were on schedule and within budget
- No project management framework at all
- No comprehensive project management plan for the executiion and monitoring of the project.
- No official tracking of scope and schedule changes
- No documentation of departures from planned schedule
- No plan for what staffing was needed for the project
- No analysis of alternatives
- No system requirements baseline
- No system development plan
- No requirements for best practices, customer oversight or acceptance of the vendor
- No technical requirements to ensure user functionality given to the vendor
- No details on deliverables given to the vendor (seriously — no requirements to hand over the code or any documentation)
- No review criteria
- No defined technical framework
- No security testing
And, again, that’s just some of the problems listed in the document. There are more.
A few days later, Masnick posted another entry about possible mismanagement by Pallante. In markup for a bill that would change the Register of Copyrights to a Presidential appointment rather than a Librarian of Congress appointment, Representative Zoe Lofgren wants to add an amendment that would still let the Librarian fire the Register if she needs to.
Pallante said (with emphasis apparently added by Masnick):
This amendment allows the Librarian of Congress to remove the Register. This is an essential provision. How can you expect the Librarian — as mandated by law — properly supervise the Copyright Office when the Register is answerable to no one but the executive branch? And how do you truly supervise someone you can’t fire?
Now, what can a Librarian do if a Register is acting insubordinately, or giving fake budget request numbers. Unfortunately, this is not a hypothetical. While preparing the fiscal year 18 appropriations request, the Library noticed that a $25 million line item in the Copyright Office’s request didn’t add up. When questioned about this, Register Pallante stated that this number “was no big deal” — it was just a placeholder and they’d make adjustments after the money was appropriated.
In other words, the Copyright Office gave the Librarian fake budget numbers with the intention that she go testify in front of the Appropriations Committee to the need of these funds that was made up.
At Publishers Weekly, Andrew Albanese has a lengthy report delving further into the circumstances surrounding the Inspector General’s report and the bill to change the Register’s appointment. PW’s sources characterize the bill as an explicit attempt to stop Hayden from replacing Pallante. An AAP spokesman said that Pallante was not consulted for the IG’s report, and that Pallante “knows of no basis for the false allegation pertaining to budget numbers put forth from the Copyright Office.” The Library of Congress declined to comment on the report.
If we can take these reports at face value, it wasn’t so much that Pallante was ousted for political reasons, or because Google didn’t like her—it’s that she simply wasn’t doing a good job in the office.
I have little doubt that there is probably more to both stories than what the news has reported, or even than what the original source material shows. Given how long it took for even that much information to come to the fore, I doubt we’ll ever know the whole story. Nonetheless, this may not bode well for Pallante’s tenure at the Association of American Publishers.
David Rothman expressed hopes that she might be able to help modernize the market for entertainment ebooks, and perhaps convince publishers to reduce their reliance on DRM and the DMCA. But how can she do that if she couldn’t even properly modernize her own government office?