Cronyism Within Obama’s FCC and Library of Congress Threatens U.S. Copyright and Intellectual Property Protections
In today’s political atmosphere of Wikileaks and FBI investigation of potential collusion, the charge of government cronyism is perhaps more damning than any other.
For that reason, a blockbuster editorial in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal was particularly devastating:
Most Americans think of Google as a search engine doing unalloyed social good, but the company also wants to make money and wield political influence along the way. So you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to notice that an abrupt change of leadership at the U.S. Copyright Office is good news for Google, which aims to pay less for profiting from the property of others.”
So what’s the backstory here? In a nutshell, this tawdry ordeal centers on the suspicious demotion within the Library of Congress of Maria Pallante, who until two weeks ago served as U.S. Register of Copyrights. In that capacity, Ms. Pallante advocated reorganizing the Copyright Office as an independent agency, but perhaps more significantly was too protective of people’s property rights, including copyright, for Google’s taste.
Chief among Ms. Pallante’s inconvenient heresies? Her opposition to the malignant set-top cable box proposal from Obama’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which we at CFIF have steadfastly criticized:
Earlier this year the Federal Communications Commission proposed something known as the set-top box rule. The thrust was to force cable companies to build a universal adapter so Google and others could broadcast content without paying licensing fees or abiding by carriage agreements. Google supported the new rule. Less pleased were creators, who wouldn’t be paid for their work.
A bipartisan group of House Members in July sent a letter asking the copyright office to weigh in. Ms. Pallante replied that the rule ‘would seem to take a valuable good’ and ‘deliver it to third parties who are not in privity with the copyright owners, but who may nevertheless exploit the content for profit.’ Ms. Pallante suggested revising the rule, which the FCC did.
This prompted outrage from groups funded by Google. Take Public Knowledge, whose website notes that Google is a ‘platinum’ supporter – chipping in $25,000 a year and probably more. Public Knowledge’s senior counsel assailed the House letter, and in September it released a report claiming ’systematic bias at the U.S. copyright office.’ Ms. Pallante was singled out as ‘captured’ by industry for the sin of focusing on ‘enforcement’ of copyright rather than rewriting it. Something else happened in September: Ms. Pallante got a new boss when Ms. Hayden was sworn in as Librarian of Congress, a presidential appointment. Ms. Hayden formerly ran the American Library Association, which takes a permissive view of copyright law and accepts money from, you guessed it, Google. A month later Ms. Pallante was pushed out.”
It all reeks of crony capitalism on behalf of Google, whose business model depends in part on exploiting others’ copyrighted artistic creations without compensation.
As The Wall Street Journal’s editorial concluded, “The guarantee to own what you create is the reason entrepreneurs take the risks that power the economy.” Indeed, the U.S. maintains the world’s most protective copyright and intellectual property (IP) laws, which remains the driving force in our status as the most creative, inventive and prosperous nation in human history. Americans shouldn’t tolerate cronyism in pursuit of such bad ideas as the FCC’s set-top box proposal that threaten that status.