Technology Law and Electronic Media Update

October 2016. Copyright Law.
Knives are Out at the U.S. Copyright Office.

It is reported that Maria Pallante, the head of the U.S. Copyright Office, was abruptly removed from her post on Friday. The removal process was reported to include locking down her computer accounts. According to Billboard Magazine, a music industry trade rag, “Pallante was locked out of her computer this morning… ” Sources lay this contretemps at the feet of Google/Alphabet. According to artist groups, Google’s lobbyist called “Public Knowledge” had a problem with Pallente for being overly protective of copyright creators, presumably to the detriment of Google and YouTube. There is speculation that this was the result of opposition at the Copyright Office to the U.S Justice Department Antitrust Division decision that music licensing organizations like ASCAP and BMI were not allowed to conduct what has been a traditional licensing practice called “100% licensing”. This has to do with how jointly authored works (think McCartney-Lennon) get licensed and obtain proper accounting for royalties. The music industry has been concerned that the DOJ decision would greatly benefit Google/YouTube to the detriment of songwriters. It is reported that the attorney at the DOJ who issued the decision apparently used to be an attorney representing Google in antitrust matters, the CEO of Public Knowledge used to be the head of the antitrust division at the DOJ, and that Public Knowledge gets funding from Google. In addition, it is also reported that many Google-ites contribute to the Democratic Party. So music industry sources suggest that Pallante was pushed out at the behest of Google in order that the Copyright Office go along with termination of “100% licensing”.

Fueling this speculation is that since about 2010, the FCC was pushed hard by Google to issue “net neutrality” rules which were based on defining “Broadband Internet access service” in a manner that appears to exclude regulatory oversight over companies like Google/YouTube, Netflix, Facebook and Amazon, yet regulate activities of companies like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast. In June, the most recently issued version of the “net neutrality” rules were upheld by the D.C. Court of Appeals.

One might observe that the Democratic Party relies on the creative community to further its causes on election day, yet this subtle bureaucratic attack against the interests of the creative community —assuming that is what it is– occurs during the lame-duck days of the Obama Administration. Note that Hillary Clinton’s copyright policy includes this: “…the copyright system has languished for many decades, and is in need of administrative reform to maximize its benefits in the digital age.” Stay tuned on this one.