Maria Pallante Removed as U.S. Register of Copyrights

Mark Davis/Getty Images for AFM
Maria Pallante attends the U.S. Germanic Copyright Summit at the American Film Market at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel on November 5, 2013, in Santa Monica, California.

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.

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.”

The register of copyrights has limited power to set policy but often provides important guidance to Congress, and Pallante was seen as being fair to creators and media companies. For historical reasons, the Copyright Office is part of the Library of Congress, which operates under the authority of the congressional branch.

Several lobbyists also expressed anxiety about who would replace Pallante, who had called for a copyright reform process in March 2013 and begun work on it with Congress. “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 Copyright Alliance CEO Keith Kupferschmid in a statement.

Copyright has become a contentious issue, and Hayden, as the librarian of Congress, has the authority to make a new appointment without congressional review.

The search for a new Register of Copyrights is likely to be a contentious one, since technology companies and organizations that they fund believe that the Copyright Office tends to be biased toward creators. The Office recently weighed in against the idea of “100 percent licensing” – the idea that ASCAP and BMI should have to license all of the rights to any song they owned some of the rights for – and a judge ruled the same way.

The Library of Congress has a reputation for using out-of-date technology, and during her tenure, Pallante advocated moving the Copyright Office into the executive branch of government, which would make the register of copyrights a presidential appointee. (The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which oversees the other two most important kinds of intellectual property, operates under the U.S. Department of Commerce.) One source speculated that this could have alienated Hayden.

“This just proves our point that this needs to be a presidential appointee,” says the head of a media business trade organization.