Conspiracy Theories Run Rampant Following Copyright Office Executive Changes

11In the wake of Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden‘s “relocation” of Maria Pallante from her former job as Register of Copyrights has sparked a variety of theories, about both the relocation specifically as well as the world of copyright law in general


Guest Post by Mike Masnick on Techdirt

Last week, we wrote about the big news in the copyright realm, where the new Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, removed the Register of Copyrights (the head of the Copyright Office), Maria Pallante, from her job. Technically, Hayden reassigned Pallante to a new job in the Library of Congress, but Pallante rejected that offer and resigned. While we — and some others — pointed out that this was a good opportunity to reshape the Copyright Office away from being a taxpayer-funded lobbying organization for Hollywood, some folks who support ever more draconian copyright immediately jumped on all sorts of conspiracy theories about how this was really Google somehow firing Pallante, including one site that directly had that as a headline.

11To anyone who actually had knowledge of what was going on, this made no sense. Hayden is not connected to Google in any way. This is just out and out tinfoil hat conspiracy theory territory from people who see “Google” behind any policy they dislike. It seemed rather obvious that, like just about any new CEO of an organization, Hayden was clearing out some senior staff for a variety of reasons. And there was a pretty obvious big reason why Hayden would like to reassign Pallante: she has been directly and publicly advocating for Congress to move the Copyright Office outside of the Library of Congress. If you came in to run an organization and one of your direct reports was going over your head to try to transfer an entire division somewhere else, it’s likely you’d fire that person too. It’s kind of a management 101 thing.

Over the past week, in talking to a few people at the Library of Congress, or close to it, this is the basic story that came out. Hayden didn’t feel comfortable with Pallante publicly advocating against the Library of Congress, and used her role as the boss to remove her from that position. Others seem to be discovering the same thing. A report at Publisher’s Weekly notes that the conspiracy theories are bunk:

But multiple observers familiar with both the Copyright office and the library’s operations told PW that Pallante’s ouster was not necessarily rooted in any specific disagreements over copyright policy. Rather, it most likely was a matter of Hayden “getting the Library’s house in order.” Pallante, the sources noted, has strongly urged lawmakers to remove the Copyright Office from under the purview of the Library of Congress and make it an independent agency, with the register becoming a Senate-confirmable presidential appointee.

“If Congress wants to remove the Copyright Office, it can do so,” explained one source, who did not want to be identified. “But, for now, it is part of the Library of Congress.” The source added that Hayden couldn’t be expected to lead the Copyright Office forward with a subordinate pushing Congress for the agency’s independence at the same time. At press time, LoC officials had not yet commented

Another close observer, who also did not want to be identified, agreed and said there was no shadowy Silicon Valley plot to remove Pallante and “jam in” a more tech industry-friendly Register, as some reports have suggested.

From what I can tell, the “tech” industry was just as surprised about this as anyone else. Even the Authors Guild, which initially rang the alarm bells is now slowly, calming down and realizing that it may have overreacted. In an update, it notes that Hayden doesn’t appear to have been taking orders from the tech industry. She also told them that she believes that the Library of Congress shouldn’t be taking a major role in policy making:

When we asked Dr. Hayden whether she intended to respect the traditional role of the Copyright Office setting policy without interference from the Library, she very clearly stated that she does not intend to weigh in on copyright law or policy. She said that policy and legislative efforts are the domain of Congress, not the Library. Her job, she explained, requires her to ensure that the Copyright Office has the technology and resources for the proper operations of the registration and recordation systems. She was sympathetic with our desire to see the Copyright Office receive the funding necessary to create a robust registration and recordation system that meets 21st-century needs.

Of course, what’s not entirely clear from that statement is if it means that the Copyright Office should also go back to its more traditional role of focusing on registering copyrights and similarly not weighing in on copyright law or policy. If she says that’s not the role for the Library of Congess, then doesn’t that also apply to the Copyright Office since it is a part of the Library?

Either way, I know it’s popular for some people to assume any conspiracy theory around “Google” must be true (and, just you watch, someone in the comments here will now try to rope this post and me into that conspiracy), but this one comes up empty once you actually look at the details. It won’t stop the conspiracy theorists, but they can spin their wheels with their tinfoil hats, whiteboards and theories about sea creatures.