Murder in the Library of Congress

Copyright chief removed, moved sideways


The US Copyright Office has been given a brutal Silicon Valley-style sacking, the first time the Copyright Register has been dismissed in 119 years.

Maria A Pallante was locked out of her computer on Friday, according to Billboard, on the instructions of her boss, a new Obama appointee, Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress.

“Officially, Pallante has been appointed as a senior adviser for digital strategy for the Library of Congress, although it’s clear she was asked to step down,” Billboard’s Robert Levine notes.

Critics see the move as in line with Silicon Valley asserting its influence over the US Government via its agencies in the dog days of the Obama Administration. Just last month, as Hayden started the post, the Google-funded group Public Knowledge attacked the Copyright Office for upholding the copyright laws.

“Pallante was the only one standing between Google and what is left of the copyright system,” wrote David Lowery on the Trichordist blog, which campaigns for better deals for songwriters and musicians.

Controversial decisions by the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Federal Communications Commission have all resulted in proposals or decisions that advanced the business interests of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies.

For example, after an investigation of Google for anti-competitive practices, FTC staff concluded there was sufficient evidence to indict - but the Obama-appointed trade commissioners abandoned this for a voluntary deal instead.

The FCC, run by former industry lobbyist and major Obama fundraiser Tom Wheeler, has introduced a flood of measures that benefit huge web companies and constrain telcos, the most significant of which is Title II reclassification, which gives the bureaucrats wide-ranging authority over internet practices and private contracts. The DoJ was found to have kept Obama’s office closely involved on antitrust investigations - which has never happened before.

What’s the Register of Copyright and why has it annoyed Google

Congress created the post of The Register of Copyright at the end of the 19th Century, when copyright protection required an author to register a work (Registration of a work is now not needed if a country is a signatory to the Berne Convention, but in the USA, it entitles the owner to statutory damages.) The role of the Copyright Register has evolved to provide Congress with expert impartial advice. The legal duty of the Register is to uphold a functioning rights marketplace, something Silicon Valley isn’t keen to see, as the windfall profits of today’s giant web companies come from aggregation rather than trade.

Although the Library of Congress (as the name implies) reports to Congress, its boss is a Presidential appointee. Barack Obama appointed a librarian from his base of Chicago who rose to be head of the librarians’ association the ALA. Her appointment welcomed by anti-copyright crusaders.

But two pieces of advice from the Copyright Register in particular will have infuriated Google, which in each case sought radical changes in the operation of the copyright system.

On the advice of DoJ antitrust attorney, the DoJ recommended that part-authors of a song should lose the ability to say no to digital deals they don’t like.

The move came from Google’s former key antitrust lawyer Renata Hesse, who had moved from Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati to become acting Attorney General for antitrust issues. Songwriters come out worst out of any negotiation with The Man, and the move, called “100 per cent licensing”, weakened their position further.

Pallante warned back in January that 100 per cent licensing raised a host of issues: “The Office believes that an interpretation of the consent decrees that would require these PROs to engage in 100 per cent licensing presents a host of legal and policy concerns. Such an approach would seemingly vitiate important principles of copyright law, interfere with creative collaborations among songwriters, negate private contracts, and impermissibly expand the reach of the consent decrees. It could also severely undermine the efficacy of ASCAP and BMI, which today are able to grant blanket licenses covering the vast majority of performances of musical works—a practice that is considered highly efficient by copyright owners and users alike,” she wrote [PDF].

The dubious legality of Hesse’s proposal was demonstrated when a Court threw out the proposal after a legal challenge from three songwriters was upheld. A Court agreed that Obama’s DoJ had violated due process by stripping them of their rights. The move would have obliged the performing rights societies (who are regulated by the DoJ under a Consent Decree) to check whether they actually had the rights to a composition for millions of songs. Google, which has invested in a rival service to the PROs called Kobalt, would be under no such obligation.

Another piece of expert advice from Pallante will also have infuriated Google, which along with being the owner of the most popular internet video service YouTube, is used to getting its own way.

Unlike Netflix, which has invested heavily in buying and making TV and movie content (it spent more than HBO or the BBC last year) Google is notorious tight-fisted when it comes to licensing quality video. Faced with an instruction by Congress to replace the antiquated CableCARD standard, FCC Chairman Wheeler rejected the app-based alternative industry came up with, in favour of a proposal backed by a Google-funded NGO, Public Knowledge.

The difference? As we explained here, Google’s preferred plan allowed third parties access to the stream, TV guide metadata and subscriber info, paving the way for Chocolate Factory to disaggregate channels and help itself to content without a contract.

Pallante called their bluff, warning that it was illegal: “Rather than being passive conduits for licensed programming, it seems that a broad array of the third-party devices and services that would be enabled by the Proposed Rule would essentially be given access to a valuable bundle of copyrighted works, and could repackage and retransmit those works for a profit, without having to comply with agreed contractual terms,” the Copyright Register noted.

Who votes for Google?

She reminded Google - and this is significant - that under the US Constitution, it is Congress that makes the laws.

“It is important to remember that only Congress, through the exercise of its power under Copyright Clause, and not the FCC or any other agency, has the constitutional authority to create exceptions and limitations in copyright law." [Our emphasis]

Congress has only intervened rarely and carefully in the case of clear market failure, Pallante noted, and nobody is arguing that the “Golden Age of TV” is a market failure, with premium shows available on a huge range of devices at a low cost, thanks to cable cutting. Pallante said that Wheeler’s proposal “maybe be understood to create a new statutory license” - the most significant intervention government can make.

Faced with making such a seismic shift in the economics of TV production, the swing vote of the FCC’s five Commissioners backed away, and the proposal is dead for now.

Very few Americans would vote for even weaker rights over the pictures and words they hand over to the giant internet companies like Facebook and Google, so there is little chance of Silicon Valley-friendly copyright “reform” winning a popular democratic mandate. In this climate, the odd backroom assassination could remedy this... hypothetically speaking, of course. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Senior IBMer hit with £290k demand from Big Blue in separate case as unfair dismissal claim rolls on

    High Court and Employment Tribunal cases to be heard soon

    A former IBM general manager who was posted to the United Arab Emirates is being sued by the company for £290,000 after filing an employment tribunal case claiming unfair dismissal.

    In its particulars of claim lodged on 10 February 2021 and recently made available by the court, Big Blue claimed that former Middle East GM Shamayun Miah should hand back two "special payments" because it sacked him within two years of paying him the cash lump sums.

    Miah was paid pre-tax sums of £175,000 on 1 January 2018 and a further £100,000 on 1 January 2019, according to IBM's High Court filing. IBM has claimed he is "liable" to repay a portion of each of payment, together totalling £145,750.

    Continue reading
  • If you're Intel, self-driving cars look an awful lot like PCs

    Hardware capabilities, latest feature updates? You'll get what you pay for

    Intel's vision of the computing architecture of autonomous vehicles is similar to that of PCs, with pricey models getting better hardware and the latest software, and cheaper self-driving cars getting the bare minimum.

    The segments of premium and mid-range cars will need extra compute and over-the-air update capabilities to enable increasing levels of autonomous driving, said Erez Dagan, executive vice president at Mobileye, Intel's self-driving car system division, speaking at the Evercore ISI Autotech & AI Forum this week.

    On the other hand, low-end vehicles will have basic equipment, sensors, and features as mandated or incentivized by regulations like the EU's General Safety Regulation, which focuses on improving driver safety.

    Continue reading
  • Researchers finger new APT group, FamousSparrow, for hotel attacks

    Espionage motive mooted in attacks which hit industry, government too

    Researchers at security specialist ESET claim to have found a shiny new advanced persistent threat (APT) group dubbed FamousSparrow - after discovering its custom backdoor, SparrowDoor, on hotels and government systems around the world.

    "FamousSparrow is currently the only user of a custom backdoor that we discovered in the investigation and called SparrowDoor," ESET researcher and co-author of the report Tahseen Bin Taj explained in a prepared statement. "The group also uses two custom versions of Mimikatz. The presence of any of these custom malicious tools could be used to connect incidents to FamousSparrow."

    The group can be traced back to 2019, the researchers claimed, though the attacks tracked in the report made use of the ProxyLogon vulnerability in Microsoft Exchange starting in March this year. Victims were spread around Europe, the Middle East, the Americas, Asia, and Africa - without a single one being discovered in the US, oddly.

    Continue reading
  • Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Nah, it's just Windows suffering from a bit of vertigo

    Up above the streets and houses, XP's flying high

    Bork!Bork!Bork! Windows XP continues to hang in there – quite literally – as the operating system does what it does best some 90 metres above the London's River Thames.

    The screen, spotted by Register reader Andy Jones while safely ensconced within the confines of an Emirates Air Line gondola, appears to be in something of a boot loop. It looks to be endlessly resetting as the UK capital city's cable car attraction grinds itself along the kilometre or so between the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks.

    Continue reading
  • How many Android containers can you fit on your VM?

    The Register speaks to Canonical about running the OS in the cloud

    Interview Developers targeting Android are spoiled for choice with their platforms.

    There are a variety of options available for running Android application development environments these days. Even Microsoft has promised that its upcoming Windows 11 will eventually be able to run the apps on the desktop and has long since supported the mobile OS via its Your Phone app, even while smothering its ailing Windows Phone with a cuddly Android pillow.

    For Canonical, however, Anbox remains a cloud product, according to Simon Fels, engineering manager and is therefore unlikely to feature in any desktop version of the company's Ubuntu distribution any time soon, although with September's announcement it will now cheerfully scale from the heights of the cloud down to a single Virtual Machine via the Appliance version.

    Continue reading
  • Infosys admits it still hasn't fully fixed Indian tax portal

    Deadline came and went, but over 750 'resources' are still hard at work

    Infosys has admitted it has missed the Indian government's deadline to fix the tax portal it built, but which has been a glitchy mess since its June 2021 launch.

    The portal was introduced to make filing taxes more efficient. It delivered the opposite – India's government was forced to extend filing deadlines amid user complaints that they found the portal impossible to use. The portal was even placed into "emergency maintenance" mode at one point, during which it was completely unavailable.

    Infosys was shamed by ministers and on August 22nd was given a September 15th deadline to fix the portal.

    Continue reading
  • Here's an idea: Verification for computer networks as well as chips and code

    What tools are available? What are the benefits? Let's find out

    Systems Approach In 1984, artificial intelligence was having a moment. There was enough optimism around it to inspire me to explore the role of AI in chip design for my undergraduate thesis, but there were also early signs that the optimism was unjustified.

    The term “AI winter” was coined the same year and came to pass a few years later. But it was my interest in AI that led me to Edinburgh University for my PhD, where my thesis advisor (who worked in the computer science department and took a dim view of the completely separate department of artificial intelligence) encouraged me to focus on the chip design side of my research rather than AI. That turned out to be good advice at least to the extent that I missed the bursting of the AI bubble of the 1980s.

    The outcome of all this was that I studied formal methods for hardware verification at a point in time where hardware description languages (HDLs) were just getting off the ground. These days, HDLs are a central part of chip design and formal verification of chip correctness has been used for about 20 years. I’m pretty sure my PhD had no impact on the industry – these changes were coming anyway.

    Continue reading
  • Imagine a fiber optic cable that can sense it's about to be dug up and send a warning

    Forget wiring cities with IoT devices – this could be how wide-scale sensing gets done

    Imagine an optic fiber that can sense the presence of a nearby jackhammer and warn its owner that it is in danger of being dug up, just in time to tell diggers not to sink another shaft. Next, imagine that an entire city's installed base of fiber could be turned into sensors that will make planners think twice before installing IoT devices.

    Next, stop imagining: the tech is real, already working, and was yesterday used to demonstrate the impact of an earthquake.

    As explained to The Register by Mark Englund, CEO of FiberSense, the company uses techniques derived from sonar to sense vibrations in fiber cables. FiberSense shoots lasers down the cables and observes the backscatter as the long strands of glass react to their environment.

    Continue reading
  • Unable to test every tourist and unable to turn them away, Greece used ML to pick visitors for COVID-19 checks

    Inside the software built to figure out groups of potentially infected, asymptomatic passengers

    Faced with limited resources in a pandemic, Greece turned to machine-learning software to decide which sorts of travelers to test for COVID-19 as they arrived in the country.

    The system in question used reinforcement learning, specifically multi-armed bandit algorithms, to identify which potentially infected, asymptomatic passengers were worth testing and putting into quarantine if necessary. It also was able to produce up-to-date statistics on infections for officials to analyze, such as early signs of the emergence of COVID-19 hot spots abroad, we're told.

    Nicknamed Eva, the software was put to use at all 40 of Greece's entry points from August 6 to November 1 last year. Incoming travelers were asked to fill out a questionnaire detailing the country and region they were coming from as well as their age and gender. Based on these characteristics, Eva selected whether they should be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival. At its peak, Eva was apparently processing between roughly 30,000 and 55,000 forms a day, each form representing a household, and about 10 to 20 per cent of households were tested.

    Continue reading
  • Angry birds ground some Google Wing drones in Australia

    Between COVID and corvids, locked-down Aussies can't catch a break - or a coffee lowered from the treetops

    Some of Google parent company Alphabet's Wing delivery drones have been grounded by angry Australian birds.

    As reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and filmed by residents of Canberra, ravens have attacked at least one of Wing's drones during a delivery run.

    Canberra, Australia's capital city, is currently in COVID-caused lockdown. It's also coming into spring – a time when local birds become a menace in the leafy city. Magpies are a particular hazard because they swoop passers-by who they deem to be threateningly close to their nests and the eggs they contain. Being swooped is very little fun – magpies dive in, often from a blind spot, snapping their sharp beaks, and can return two or three times on a single run. Swooping is intimidating for walkers, and downright dangerous for cyclists.

    Continue reading
  • Memory prices to dive in late 2022, says Gartner

    Firm says 40 per cent of a server's bill of material costs are tied to memory

    Prices for DRAM and NAND flash are set to fall, sharply, in the second half of 2022 according to analyst firm Gartner.

    In a memo published last week and obtained by The Register, the firm predicts “oversupply” of memory chips will develop as demand eases and supply increases. A “significant price reduction” is therefore likely, the firm states, without offering a more precise estimate of how far prices will fall.

    The memo appears to be is directed at hardware manufacturers and advises them to start designing products that use more memory or keep memory and price the same but add other components – better CPUs, batteries or screens are suggested - to keep overall bill of material costs the same while also making devices more attractive.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021