New Librarian of Congress Faces Copyright Modernization

Bloomberg BNA’s Patent Trademark & Copyright Law Daily™is the IP industry’s premier news service, offering objective, timely,and reliable daily news coverage and commentary from leading IP law...

By Anandashankar Mazumdar

July 13 — Carla D. Hayden, the long-time head of the Baltimore public library system, was confirmed as librarian of Congress by a Senate vote of 74-18 July 13.

Hayden was confirmed nearly five months after President Barack Obama nominated her (37 PTD, 2/25/16) and nearly 10 months after the previous librarian retired.

As the head of an organization that encompasses the Copyright Office, Hayden now faces the formidable task of deciding how to modernize the agency, copyright scholars said.

“What the library needed was someone who knew how to run a business, in a sense, rather than look at this as a traditional scholarly position,” Philippa Loengard, a copyright law professor at Columbia University, told Bloomberg BNA. Hayden's experience running a library system matched this need, she said.

Business Transactions Depend on Office's Efficiency

The office's services play a direct role in the conduct of business in significant industrial sectors that depend on copyrights, and the technological challenges faced by the agency are critical to those transactions, according to Robert Brauneis, a copyright law professor at George Washington University.

For example, when copyright owners record their copyright interests, “they actually have to print a copy, put it in an envelope with stamps on it, and send it off in snail mail,” Brauneis said. “Multimillion dollar transactions depend on registration getting processed quickly and documents getting processed quickly. It's a strange sign of the office's ability to modernize things.”

Hayden, who will be the first woman and first African-American librarian, succeeds James H. Billington, who served 28 years in the office and was notorious for boasting that he had never used e-mail.

Library Has Modernization Problem

“I remember that fax was the only way to reach him instantaneously,” Elizabeth L. Rosenblatt, a copyright law professor at Whittier College told Bloomberg BNA.

During Billington's tenure, the office was criticized for failing to keep its information technology systems up to date.

In March 2015, the Government Accountability Office issued a 133-page report concluding that the library had, among other things, failed to establish a strategic plan for its information technology infrastructure and management of its IT investments (113 PTD, 6/12/15).

Legislation enacted in November sets the term of the librarian at 10 years (217 PTD, 11/10/15). Previously, there was no explicit term of office, and it had been treated as a lifetime appointment.

In March, Maria A. Pallante, the register of copyrights, set forth a $165 million plan to tackle the office's IT systems (41 PTD, 3/2/16). It remains to be seen whether Congress will approve the budget request.

Hayden's practical experience as a library administrator—in contrast with the academic backgrounds of her predecessors—is also seen as an asset by those who want to ensure that the interests of copyright holders and copyright users are balanced.

“As somebody who has been in the trenches of a library, Hayden is likely at least to have a good handle on the needs of balancing the incentive side of copyright and the access side of copyright,” Rosenblatt said.

There are still those who argue that the office should be separated from the Library of Congress, and there is a bill in Congress that would make the agency independent (239 PTD, 12/14/15).

To contact the reporter on this story: Anandashankar Mazumdar in Washington at amazumdar@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mike Wilczek at mwilczek@bna.com

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.