ARCHIVED: Press Release: Library Associations Support National Geographic Society's Supreme Court Appeal

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For Immediate Release
August 30, 2001

Contact: Robert L. Oakley
American Association of Law Libraries
202-662-9160


Library Associations Support National Geographic
Society's Supreme Court Appeal

Washington, DC--The Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the American Library Association (ALA), the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) and the Medical Library Association (MLA) have jointly filed an amicus brief in support of the National Geographic Society's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The National Geographic Society is seeking to overturn the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in the case of Greenberg v. National Geographic Society. The appeals court, in overturning a lower court decision, ruled that National Geographic's CD-ROM version of the past 100 years of the Society's magazine was not permissible under the Copyright Act.

The library associations filed an amicus brief before the Court due to concerns that the Eleventh Circuit decision could hinder the use of digital technologies. The Eleventh Circuit appeals court held that National Geographic was not permitted to reproduce and distribute, through the CD-ROM compilation, the copyrighted photographs of freelance photographers that had appeared in the original issues of the magazine. The Copyright Act is "media-neutral," and libraries believe that it should allow publishers to take advantage of new technologies to preserve and distribute creative works to the public.

ALA, ARL, AALL and MLA view the CD-ROM of the National Geographic magazine as no different than if a microfilm version of the magazine had been made. Copyright protection extends to works in any tangible medium of expression. The original collective works that are reproduced in digital facsimiles constitute a permissible revision and are not themselves changed by the transformation from paper to the CD-ROM version. In this case, the photographs at issue appear in the CD-ROM version in the exact positions (along with text and advertising) in which they appeared in the original print version of the magazine.

Libraries also support the right of scholars and researchers to combine pre-existing works with the necessary software to provide a searching capability. Under the Eleventh Circuit's decision, no CD-ROM or digital technology that requires the addition of such software could arguably ever qualify as a permissible revision.


The American Library Association (ALA) is a nonprofit educational organization of approximately 61,000 librarians, library educators, information specialists, library trustees, and friends of libraries representing public, school, academic, state, and specialized libraries. ALA is dedicated to the improvement of library and information services and the public's right to a free and open information society.

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit association of 123 research libraries in North America. ARL's members include university libraries, public libraries, government, and national libraries. Its mission is to shape and influence forces affecting the future of research libraries in the process of scholarly communication. ARL programs and services promote equitable access to and effective uses of recorded knowledge in support of teaching, research, scholarship, and community service.

The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) is a nonprofit educational organization with over 5,000 members nationwide. AALL's mission is to promote and enhance the value of law libraries to the legal and public communities, to foster the profession of law librarianship, and to provide leadership in the field of legal information and information policy.

The Medical Library Association (MLA) is a professional organization of more than 5,000 institutions and individuals in the health sciences information field. MLA members develop programs for health sciences information professionals and health information delivery systems, foster educational and research programs for health sciences information professionals, and encourage an enhanced public awareness of health care issues.