- - Sunday, October 30, 2016


Offending one of Barack Obama’s campaign contributors can be as career-threatening as thumbing a nose at the president himself. Maria Pallante, the U.S. Register of Copyrights, an important but little-known office under the Library of Congress, had the temerity to write to the Securities and Exchange Commission to say that in her expert opinion, Google’s habit of playing fast and loose with the nation’s copyright laws is both bad policy and against the law. She didn’t realize that she was committing professional suicide, but she found out soon enough.

On October 21, the new Librarian of Congress, appointed by the president, announced that Miss Pallente was being removed as Register and would have a new job. No one told Miss Pallante, who learned about it when she went to work as usual and discovered that she no longer had access to her government computer. She is the first person in her position ever to be sacked, and the way it was done angered many of her colleagues and others familiar with the office and how it operates. Perhaps the president consulted Hillary Clinton before the sacking. This is how Hillary sacked employees in the White House Travel Office, guilty only of having faithfully carried out their duties for years.

Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress who assumed the office in September, said Miss Pallante had been appointed as a senior adviser for digital strategy, and that Karyn Temple Claggett, currently an associate register of copyrights, would become acting Register. In her new job, Miss Pallante was assigned to find new ways to market trinkets and other tourist stuff in the retail store of the Library of Congress. She would not accept the humiliation, and resigned.

She is only one of a dozen persons who have held the office since its creation. She is a lawyer who worked her way up to her appointment five years ago. “People I know who care about copyright are very disturbed,” Marybeth Peters, Miss Pallante’s predecessor as Register, told a reporter. “Nothing like this has ever happened there before.”

Little known or not, the office is an important one in the relatively arcane world of patents and copyrights, and few know more about them than Miss Pallante does. Rep. Robert Goodlatte of Virginia, the Republican chairman of the committee with oversight authority over the office, and Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the committee’s ranking Democrat, are both upset, and describe the removal of Miss Pallante as a “tremendous loss of the copyright office and for America’s creators, innovators, and users of copyrighted works.”

The sacking is an outgrowth of the struggle between technology giants armed with billions of dollars that the president and his friends covet, and many with insider knowledge of that struggle say that Google was sending a message not to mess with, or interfere in how it gets what it wants, everybody else be damned, and that Google does not have to tolerate it as long as Mr. Obama is in the White House. Google considered Miss Pallante too friendly with copyright holders,

Loyalty to the president’s cronies has its rewards, and as Maria Pallante learned last week, faithfulness to the president’s constituents has its price.

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