Senate Slated to Vote On Bill That Could Limit the Power the First Black Librarian of Congress

H.R. 1695 would strip Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden of her power to appoint the next Register of Copyrights. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images)

The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to limit the powers of Dr. Carla Hayden, a 40-year veteran of libraries and the first African-American and female librarian of Congress. Now, the Senate is slated to finish the deal.

On April 25, the House overwhelmingly voted in favor of the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act, also known as H.R. 1695, book news blog “Book Riot” reported. While the bill mainly focuses on the humdrum details of copyright law, it also restrains the position of the Librarian of Congress. If passed by the Senate, who received the bill on May 2, the act would snatch Hayden’s power to appoint the next Register of Copyrights.

So, why does this matter? With Hayden out of the picture, the power to select the next Register of Copyright would be left to the Executive Branch — namely, President Donald Trump.

H.R. 1695 would essentially allow Trump, “with the advice and consent of the Senate, … to appoint a Register of Copyrights from a list of at least three individuals recommended by a panel” formed by the Speaker of the House, the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate, and Hayden herself, the bill states. Trump also would have the power to terminate the Register of Copyrights but must notify both chambers of Congress before doing so.

Book Riot pointed out the that the bill isn’t just a random grab at Hayden’s power, however. It was drafted in response to entertainment industry lobbyists (who overwhelmingly support it), Hayen’s activism and critics of modern-day copyright law. Several members of the music and publishing industries also have backed the proposed act, including the nonprofit Authors Guild and Maria Pallante, the former Register of Copyrights and CEO of the Association of American Publishers. Hayden removed Pallante from the ROC position in 2016, according to the blog.

By giving the president the power to appoint the next Register of Copyrights, lobbyists from the aforementioned groups would have a better shot at promoting ROC candidates who share their interests.

Hayden has received some pushback during her time as Librarian of Congress due to her avid advocacy efforts and fight to defend equal access to libraries, for which she’s shown continued support.

“In this time of wondering who can we trust, we [libraries] are the most trusted source you can get,” she said at the 2017 Association of College & Research Libraries conference. “That very trustworthiness is our strength. That’s what we should revel in and be confident in.”

It’s worth noting that Congress is working to pass H.R. 1695 at a time when it would affect the first African-American and the first woman to be appointed to Librarian of Congress. Ex-Librarian of Congress James Billington also received harsh criticisms during his time in the coveted position, Book Riot noted, but Congress never voted on a bill that would curb his power.

Despite the House and Senate’s efforts to limit Hayden’s position, the former American Library Association president has received vocal support from fellow industry members who aren’t too fond of the proposed bill.

“[The bill] isn’t related to modernization of the Copyright Office, which it will impede,” Jim Neal, president-elect of the ALA said. “It isn’t about protecting or advancing the long-term interests of all Copy­right Office stakeholders, just its most powerful ones.”

Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) agreed, arguing that H.R. 1695 “would allow powerful incumbent interests to use their lobbying power to control this increasingly politicized office.”

The legislation is currently under review by the Senate.

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