Announced Departure of Register Temple Provokes Tired Anti-Copyright Rhetoric

I know it seems like we have ample government shenanigans to watch on TV right now, but in case you missed the real barn-burner yesterday, it was announced that Register of Copyrights Karyn Temple has been named as the next Senior Executive Vice President and Global General Counsel at the Motion Picture Association (MPA).  Why?  What were you paying attention to?

You see in the trenches of the so-called “copyright war,” the Antis delighted in this news about Temple’s career move because it appears to fulfill their conspiracy-theory narrative that a “revolving door” exists between the Copyright Office and major, corporate creators, mainly “Hollywood.”  This was a big theme being promoted by Public Knowledge et al at about the same time (Fall 2016) that Dr. Carla Hayden was first appointed Librarian of Congress and, within weeks, dismissed then Register Maria Pallante, leaving Temple to serve as Acting Register and then appointed Register in March of this year.  

I responded to this “revolving door” allegation in a post, which cites former Copyright Office Senior Counsel Steven Tepp’s rebuttal noting, among other pesky facts, the wide variety of private sector jobs that USCO employees have taken outside proverbial Hollywood.  This includes the widely respected William Patry, who became Senior Copyright Counsel at Google.  Such realities did not stop the righteously uninformed to take to Twitter and declare “Told ya so!” about Temple’s move to MPA, and some folks even rather inscrutably dragged the Restatement of Copyright Project into the same complaint.  Who better than Mike Masnick to represent the kind of logic being applied as follows …

Anyone who would conflate these subjects really needs to breathe into a bag for a while.  Because it is strenuous work to imply so many inaccuracies in a single tweet; but, for one thing, the MPA was neither the first nor the most vocal critic of the Restatement Project.  Next, Congress is not “silencing” anything by expressing its concern about the fact that the American Law Institute has NEVER EVER published a Restatement on any matter of federal law in its nearly 100-year history. In fact, there is nothing Congress can do to stop the publication of the Restatement. So, the snarky allegation that a) the USCO’s criticism of the Restatement is MPA-driven, or b) that concern over the project is just a “silly spat” is typical of the unprincipled theatrics infecting so much debate in all directions.

Whether it’s the foreign service, the intelligence community, or the modest little Copyright Office, deference for institutions, how they got that way, and what they actually do is lately under assault by rampant conspiracy theory (thank you internet) and a blinkered zeal by one faction or another to rewrite the rules according to their own dogmatic agendas.  Although the consequences and characters are substantially different, there is little intellectual distinction to be found between the radicalized partisan who says, “the FBI is broken” and the one who insists, “the Copyright Office is broken.”  Both are guilty of the same ahistorical, self-defeating brand of fallacy, epitomized in Masnick’s accusatory tweet that almost no senior Copyright Office employee ever goes to “work for the public’s interest.”  

The USCO is the public interest! What Masnick really means is that he and his friends have their own definition of “public interest,” (which does seem to coincide quite often with the interests of major internet companies), and they have decided in their cloistered wisdom that the public can only be well-served if the Copyright Office is led by people who are as skeptical about copyright as, say, Andrew Wheeler is about climate change.

We saw this attitude peak in October of 2016 when Dr. Hayden surprised a lot of people, including Members of Congress, by effectively dismissing Register Pallante, who was being contemporaneously smeared by the aforementioned anti-copyright groups for being (well) pro-copyright.  As I said at the time, you’ll get that with people who work for certain public offices:  they tend to believe in the purpose of the office.  And I would argue that we have lately witnessed the dire consequences of maligning this kind of professional commitment in order to achieve political/ideological ends. 

So, now that Dr. Hayden will be tasked with appointing the next Register, I hope she does not exhibit the habit of every other egotist in America who suddenly feels it is his/her mission to radically transform (i.e. weaken) yet another federal organization.  As described in this post, the Copyright Office, from its inception, has always been functionally distinct from the Library, even when it was formed as an extension of the Library’s own foundation as a public institution in 1897.  Consequently, I think the Librarian would best serve the public by showing deference to that history—and to Congress for that matter—in exercising her prerogative to appoint the next Register.  This may be a small victory to hope for in a storm of mass organizational disruption, but, as it was in the founding period of the nation, protecting the value of authorship is never a bad place to start.    

Photo by fizkes

© 2019, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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  • Oh dear it seems that Masnick has escaped from the Alex Jones Home for Wayward Shills again?

  • I remember when the Copyright Office was captured by Wikipedia and its anti-copyright consensus-reality operation in regards to “monkeys taking photos” not being registerable in their office practice guidelines. And then the Library of Congress thieves the “monkey selfie” to justify their faith in the Ministry of Truth / Wikipedia. Since when does a pro-copyright authority use the term “taking” photos to mean “authoring ” photos? Only an anti-copyright pea-brain is the answer. And thinking of that tiny vegetable, I am reminded of Masnik and Public Knowledge.

    • Actually, David, as the book will discuss, that timeline was misreported-shock of shocks-as the USCO was not directly commenting on your authorship itself but was merely updating language that had been part of the Compendium since before we were born. ArsTechnica et al took it as the USCO commenting on authorship in the “monkey selfie” and reported it that way, but that was not accurate at all.

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