Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) accused the head of the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress of advocating on behalf of controversial anti-piracy legislation.
The ranking member of the House Administration Subcommittee on Oversight, which held a hearing with LOC officials this morning, is also a member of the Judiciary Committee, which late last year considered a controversial bill that would allow the Justice Department to stop foreign websites from selling copyrighted material to U.S. consumers and allow law enforcement to block access to entire Internet domains that could have copyrighted content on any single webpage.
The bill, known as the Stop Online Piracy Act, was stalled last year amid criticism from lawmakers such as Lofgren who contended that it would be a devastating infringement on First Amendment rights.
Lofgren also represents Silicon Valley, where various stakeholders opposing SOPA, such as Google, are based.
She took issue today with Copyright Register Maria Pallante’s meetings with representatives from movie production companies during a trip to Los Angeles, including Warner Brothers and Paramount — organizations that would benefit from legislation like SOPA.
Lofgren also accused Pallante of taking an inappropriate stance on copyright law in her capacity as a public official in that area, pointing to a comment Pallante made that a copyright “exists for the author first and the nation second.”
“Copyright doesn’t exist for the author but benefit of society at large,” Lofgren told Pallante. “I’m concerned when any public official ... seems to favor particular stakeholders in that [relevant] industry.”
Pallante disputed the allegation, saying that her interpretation of copyright law comes from an understanding of the legal system as it is applied, not an arbitrary bias in favor of certain industry insiders.
Pallante, like her three colleagues who were also invited to testify today, has only in the past year taken over divisions of the Library of Congress that are dealing with belt-tightening across the government.
Law Librarian David Mao and Associate Librarian for Library Services Roberta Shaffer both said that lack of funding was making it difficult to ensure that aging and historic texts are stored in safe environments.
Congressional Research Service Director Mary Mazanec said that it wasn’t easy to respond to all of the requests for reports at a low staffing level.
“CRS is operating at its lowest staff level in more than three decades,” she told panel members. “As of March 31, 2012, CRS had 618 positions currently occupied. ... By way of comparison, 12 years ago our workforce numbered 685 staff members.”
All directors cited “institutional knowledge” gaps as longtime employees took advantage of early retirement incentive programs.
However, they also discussed areas where they have been able to innovate as the printed word enters a digital age.
Mao, for instance, said his team is working to launch Law.gov, which will house the Law Library’s resources online. The Law Library of Congress Reading Room is also undergoing renovations, he said, “that will include technologies so that clients may better access Library virtual collections and utilize improved study space to access physical collections that are not available online.”