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House Votes to Limit Powers of First Black Librarian of Congress

Lauren Victoria Burke (NNPA Newswire Contributor) | 5/17/2017, 12:58 p.m.
In a vote of 378 to 48, the House passed legislation to take power away from the current Librarian of ...

In a vote of 378 to 48, the House passed legislation to take power away from the current Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden.

The legislation, H.R. 1695, was authored by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (D-Va.) and ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.), would limit the powers of the librarian. It is expected to pass the Senate and be signed into law by President Trump.

The bill makes the head of the Copyright Office, the Register of Copyrights, a presidential appointment that would have to be confirmed by the Senate, rather than an appointment by the Librarian of Congress, as it has been since 1870. The bill also limits the position of Librarian of Congress to a ten-year term.

The previous Librarian of Congress, James Billington, served in the position for 28 years.

President Barack Obama appointed Hayden the 14th Librarian of Congress on February 24, 2016. She is the first African American to hold the position, as well as the first woman to be the Librarian of Congress, in the agency’s history. On March 23, legislation was introduced to block Hayden from appointing the next Register of Copyrights. That legislation passed the House on April 26.

Supporters of the bill argued that the legislation would help to modernize the Copyright Office and make it more accountable to Congress. Attempts to contact the office of Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) for details on why he authored H.R. 1695, were not answered.

“This bill serves no purpose other than to take power away from the Librarian of Congress and give it to powerful lobbyists, who will have a major say in who runs the Copyright Office,” wrote Michael Masnick on TechDirt.com on April 26. “It’s a bad bill, and it’s a gift to Hollywood.”

The entertainment industry pushed hard for the passage of H.R. 1695. It’s likely that the selection of the Librarian of Congress will be the focus of attention of the power of the entertainment lobby moving forward now that senators will play a role in confirmation.

The bill to limit Hayden’s power arrives six months after she removed Maria Pallante from the position of Register of Copyrights in October 2016. Many in the entertainment industry were said to be unhappy with Pallante’s removal.

“The Library of Congress, through the Registrar of Copyrights, plays a referee or umpire role in this complex new game; librarians, because they curate and compile content, have traditionally been protectors of copyright and works of authors and artists and balanced public and cultural interests in the free flow and use of that content,” Christopher Chambers, a professor of media studies at Georgetown University told NBC BLK. “Big money is at stake and the industry wants someone, who will see its side, rather than the public interest in what the Constitution says is the ‘promotion of useful Arts.’”

Chambers continued: “It is no secret that the industry lobbies and donates hard, regarding Democrats and Republicans alike. And many of them are African American lawmakers, like Rep. Conyers. This basically surrenders congressional power over intellectual property right there in the Constitution, to the Executive Branch, hence President Trump.”