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Copyright Office Shakeup Possible Preview To Fight Over Copyright Reform

2The suspicious removal of the Maria Pallante from her position as head of the Copyright Office by freshly minted Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, could well be indicative of further conflict surrounding copyright reform and who will helm the office next.

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By Mike Masnick of Techdirt

As you may have heard, last Friday, the brand new Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, removed the head of the Copyright Office, Maria Pallante, from her job. The press release from the Library of Congress tries to spin this as a "new appointment" for Pallante, to advise Hayden on digitization projects at the Library, but pretty much everyone sees this as Pallante being fired rather abruptly. From the Billboard article linked above:

U.S. Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante was removed from her job Friday morning (Oct. 21) by the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, who has authority over the Copyright Office. Officially, Pallante has been appointed as a senior adviser for digital strategy for the Library of Congress, although it’s clear she was asked to step down. Karyn Temple Claggett, currently associate register of copyrights, has been appointed the acting register.

Pallante was locked out of the Library of Congress computer system this morning, according to two sources who spoke with Library employees. Earlier, Hayden 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.

There are all sorts of rumors flying about this. Pallante has, apparently, been advocating strongly for moving the Copyright Office out of the Library of Congress, and either making it an independent agency or linking it up with the Patent & Trademark Office under the Commerce Department. That would be a big mistake, frankly, because copyright is not supposed to be about "commerce" and "industry" but about benefiting the public. That's why it makes sense to leave it as part of the Library of Congress.

Still, when Hayden was first announced, basically all of the copyright maximalist front groups put out statements vaguely suggesting that they'd support Hayden if she promises to leave the Copyright Office alone. It would appear that Hayden has decided not to take that advice. Of course, there are some concerns about what Pallante will do in advising on digitization at the Library of Congress, but it does seem odd that at basically the same time this news leaked, I received notice that the the Library of Congress was going to start archiving Techdirt (yes, this is 100% a coincidence, but a funny one):

That said, I should admit that I don't think Pallante herself was as bad as some critics made her out to be (though she did surround herself with a lot of people with really bad ideas). She at least seemed marginally better than some of the previous heads of the Copyright Office, and was actually at least slightly open to some good ideas on copyright reform (and plenty of bad ones). But it does seem like today's Copyright Office needs someone who isn't just representing Hollywood's viewpoint and recognizes that copyright itself is supposed to benefit the public first and foremost -- something Pallante denies.

Pallante's temporary replacement, Karyn Temple Claggett, is unlikely to change very much. Beyond it just being an interim position, Claggett came to the Copyright Office after working for many years at the RIAA, where she helped in the litigation against Grokster, Limewire, XM and Usenet.com. This is not exactly someone who recognizes the changing nature of the internet and says "let's embrace it."

So now the big question is really what happens next. Lots of people are gearing up for a fight over who will take over the Copyright Office on a permanent basis. Is it going to be someone who comes from that world where copyright is supposed to only benefit the big copyright gatekeepers? Or will it be someone with a more nuanced view on how copyright works, how it's supposed to benefit the public by providing tools for creators. Either way, it seems like the fight over this is going to get messy. You already have lobbyists whispering to the press about how awful all of this is:

That executive, and others who represent creators and media businesses in Washington, D.C., expressed surprise and dismay that Pallante, who had the job since 2011, had been removed. “The people in the creative community are furious about the fact that this was done,” says a lawyer who works for organizations that support strong copyright laws, “but especially about the way it was done.”

Wait just a second here. How the hell can the RIAA/MPAA's of the world claim that they represent "the creative community"? That's bullshit. They represent a few large gatekeepers, who have a long history of screwing over the actual creative community any chance they get. More and more of theactual creative community these days have found that the internet is a wonderful tool for creating, promoting, distributing and monetizing their works -- and they recognize that the legacy industries and overly oppressive copyright laws get in the way of that, rather than helping. But, no matter what, you can bet that when a new Copyright Register is announced, we'll see more of this kind of misleading language and attacks -- and it will be something of a preview for the eventual fight over actual copyright reform bills that are expected to show up in the relatively near future.

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