While the world was focused on Donald Trump’s relentless stream of foibles and failures, the otherwise stagnant House of Representatives quietly passed legislation broadening Trump’s power over matters of intellectual property.
In a bipartisan, 378-48 vote, the House passed the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act (H.R. 1695), which wrests the librarian of Congress’ ability to appoint or dismiss the register of copyrights, who is responsible for managing the U.S. Copyright Office, and hands that authority over to the president.
When Hayden assumed her responsibilities at the Library of Congress, the latter position put her at odds with the then-sitting register of copyrights, Maria Pallante, who favored less open access to copyrighted materials, a position supported by entertainment, media, and publishing heavyweights. Hayden fired Pallante last year, though Pallante was swiftly offered a position as President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, a lobbying organization and strong advocate of H.R. 1695.
Former Democratic Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who now heads the Motion Picture Association of America offered glowing praise:
The MPAA applauds the introduction in the House of bipartisan legislation making the Register of Copyrights a position nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The existing structure was created more than 120 years ago. Since then, the American creative economy has seen exponential growth – and now employs more than 5.5 million U.S. workers, while contributing more than $1.2 trillion to GDP.
It’s time to modernize the Copyright Office, which includes putting the Register — a critical steward of the Constitutionally-enshrined principle of copyright — on equal footing with fellow appointees who oversee similarly significant and vital industries.
And it does nothing to directly address the substance of the Copyright Office’s role in the oversight of legal monopolies on creative content, other than to make the direction of such oversight political rather than administrative.
In fact, many argue that this change impedes the deliberative balancing of varied interests in intellectual property in favor of current owners of content:
Christopher Chambers, media studies professor at Georgetown University corroborated this to NBC BLK, stating, “Big money is at stake and the industry wants someone, who will see its side, rather than the public interest in what the Constitution says is the ‘promotion of useful Arts.’”
According to many specialists, the bill does not resolve some of the very real flaws in contemporary U.S. copyright law. But it does give more power to Donald Trump. And it does take power away from a woman who has spent her life trying to find the ways to get information and literature into the hands of those who need it the most.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) offered a strong critique of the bill in a statement titled, “Don’t Trump the Library of Congress,” in which she warned that the move would “only serve to delay Copyright Office modernization, harm the public, harm content creators, increase tension between the Library and Copyright Office, and harm Copyright Office employees.”