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Removal of Register of Copyrights: An Update

As we reported earlier this week, Maria Pallante, the Register of Copyrights and Director of the United States Copyright Office, was abruptly removed from office and transferred to a non-managerial advisory position on Friday, October 21st. In a statement released last Friday, Dr. Carla Hayden, the new Librarian of Congress, explained that the move was simply a transfer to another, newly created position, where she needs in-depth copyright expertise. The “transfer” memo from the Librarian to Maria does not offer any more explanation, but makes it fairly clear that it was not a promotion. Maria turned the new position down and resigned on Monday.

Today, I met with Dr. Hayden at the Library of Congress in DC. I wanted to express our concerns about the future of the Copyright Office and the selection of the next Register. (Let me note that when I e-mailed Dr. Hayden’s office to schedule a meeting earlier this week, I immediately received a call back and was granted the meeting.) Our lobbyist, Marla Grossman, also attended.

When I asked Dr. Hayden about the reasons for Maria’s removal, she referred us to her public statements, saying it was a transfer and nothing more. She explained that the decision was hers alone and denied that the tech sector influenced the move or that the Copyright Office’s policy positions under Maria had anything to do with her transfer. Dr. Hayden seemed surprised that the transfer caused such an uproar in the copyright community. I explained why there is so much concern among rightsholders, including the Authors Guild. Maria was a Register well-loved and respected by creators, and, as reported in The Trichordist and elsewhere, the move was viewed by some as a power grab engineered by the library and/or tech associations, who would love to see someone appointed Register who would support further limitations on copyright.

Indeed, members of the Judiciary Committees in both the House and Senate have expressed their displeasure to Dr. Hayden about not being notified sooner or consulted before a decision was made. They have requested to be part of the selection of a new Register and have expressed the increased need to remove the Copyright Office from the Library in light of this action. House Judiciary Chairman Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member Conyers (D-MI) released a joint statement saying they were “saddened” by the news and stressed that the next Register should be “dedicated to protecting creative rights and modernizing the Copyright Office.” Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) issued this statement.

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.

We also spoke at length about the search for a new Register. She stated that she wants to create an open and transparent process for finding a new Register, one in which every interested party is consulted. Dr. Hayden assured us that representatives of individual creators would be on an advisory committee for the search, and that she will ensure that the process is fair and effective, so that whoever is ultimately recommended by the committee is someone she is confident she can appoint. She indicated that Deputy Librarian of Congress David Mao would oversee the process.

During our meeting it became clear that, as an individual, Dr. Hayden is sympathetic to creators. Her parents were jazz musicians, and as head librarian of the Baltimore libraries, she oversaw programs with authors and worked closely with independent booksellers. She is an enthusiastic reader herself.

I expressed our desire to work with the Library of Congress to encourage literacy, access to books, and engagement with readers, especially at an early age, when lifelong readers are made. The Authors Guild has great interest in promoting literacy and readership generally. We discussed several areas for potential cooperation, including working with the Center for the Book and other Library programs that involve authors and in efforts to create a national digital library that does not simply rely on fair use, but where authors may receive fair compensation for the use of their books.

After speaking with her today, I am confident that she understands that the Authors Guild views the Copyright Office as essential to protecting the rights of individual creators, and I’m hopeful her policies will grow to reflect that understanding.

For now, we are focusing our energies on two fronts:

  • Renewing efforts to remove the Copyright Office from the Library. We still believe that Maria’s removal shows why we should be concerned. The Register reports to the Librarian of Congress under the current law; a Librarian less sympathetic to creators could interpret the structure more broadly to cover policy decisions. Librarians should not set copyright policy; copyright experts and Congress should.
  • Ensuring that creators are represented on the search committee for the next Register of Copyrights and that the next Register is someone who has deep expertise in copyright law and understands the importance of creators in the copyright ecosystems.



Mary Rasenberger

Executive Director

The Authors Guild





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