ARCHIVED: Legislative and Regulatory Update - March 6, 1997

PrintEmail
Dateline: March 6, 1997

Mary Alice Baish
Assistant Washington Affairs Representative
Georgetown University Law Library
111 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001
202/662-9200 *FAX:202/662-9202
email:baish@law.georgetown.edu

Library Community Applauds Oakley's House Testimony

Bob Oakley was commended for his appearance on February 12, 1997 before the House Appropriations Legislative Subcommittee on behalf of AALL, ALA, ARL and SLA. Oakley urged full support for the FY 1998 appropriations requests of the Library of Congress ($387.6 million) and the Federal Depository Library Program ($25.8). The formal GPO testimony and portions of the LC statement supporting full funding for the Law Library's Global Legal Information Network (GLIN) were drafted by the Washington Affairs Office (see summary in last month's column or full-text at AALLWASH).

The hearing was notable because of some basic yet thoughtful questions posed by new Subcommittee members. The new chairman, Rep. James Walsh of New York, was honest enough to preface his comments by saying that he was new at this job and had a lot to learn. Questions to Oakley related to LC's priories for the development of the National Digital Library but disappointingly, none focused on the FDLP. Oakley represented us in his usual excellent manner and was commended by our library colleagues for his fine performance.

Earlier that day, new subcommittee member Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) questioned Librarian of Congress Dr. James Billington's about GLIN, noting that the database has been of great value to her staff. She asked which countries participated in GLIN and what was being done to develop a more comprehensive database. Law Librarian Rubens Medina was on hand to explain that there are currently 11 GLIN members and that another 11 countries are ready to participate. Medina urged full funding of the Law Library's efforts with GLIN in order to expand this unique and valuable program.

Unfortunately, most of the questions to Public Printer Michael DiMario reflected little understanding of the FDLP or the issues surrounding the transition to a more electronic program. Recognizing both the need and opportunity to educate these new members, we have already met with many of their staff and will continue to do so in the weeks ahead. On the Senate side, hearings have not yet been scheduled on the FY 1998 legislative branch appropriations requests.

Loss of Public Domain Information--a New Champion?

Law librarians and users alike are alarmed at the slow but steady erosion of important government information resources from the public domain. As Oakley stated in his recent House testimony, "This occurs when agencies contract with private publishers and fail to supply the resources to the Superintendent of Documents for distribution to depository libraries; or when the access and use of publicly-funded information is impaired by licensing agreements that prevent or curtail redissemination."

Ending this trend, through a combination of incentives for agencies to comply with the law and an effective enforcement mechanism, is one of the key challenges ahead.

During the Senate Rules and Administration Committee's hearings last summer on public access to government information, Chairman John Warner (R-VA) expressed deep concern with agencies who ignore Title 44 or who privatize government information created at taxpayer expense. Now Chairman of both the Joint Committee on Printing (JCP) and Senate Rules, Warner testified before the House Legislative Subcommittee on February 11, 1997 that the battle would be won tomorrow if we could ensure agency compliance with Title 44. We have had several valuable meetings with Warner's new JCP staff director, long-time aide Eric C. Peterson. Peterson finds it "incredible" that agencies such as the National Technical Information Service circumvent both the letter and the spirit of Title 44.

Last week Warner issued a floor statement entitled "The Growing Crisis in Public Access to Public Information," (143 Congressional Record S1730). In it, he announced his intention to hold hearings in April and to introduce legislation that will correct this situation and "will be supported on a bicameral and bipartisan basis." Warner attached the full-text of a speech by Superintendent Wayne Kelley during the recent ALA Midwinter meetings here in Washington. Citing the example of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that was privatized this year and is now published by Oxford University Press, Kelley expressed concern that "these cases will become precedents and the precedents will set an irreversible trend."

According to JCP Staff Director Peterson, Sen. Warner will focus on four key goals in developing legislation to revise Title 44:

 

  1. to solve the constitutional problem, perhaps by eliminating the JCP and creating in its place new subcommittees under House Oversight and Senate Rules;

     

  2. to solve the compliance problem by giving agencies more "flexibility" (i.e. incentives to comply) but at the same time, developing a means that will ensure that they meet the requirements of the FDLP;

     

  3. to solve the fugitive information problem and assure that government information remains in the public domain;

     

  4. and to make it perfectly clear, once and for all, that electronic information must be included in the FDLP and available for no-fee public access at participating libraries.

     

No Surprise--Copyright Term Extension, WIPO Treaties and Database Protection Are Back

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has just announced that it will aggressively consider revisions to the Proposed Treaty for the Sui Generis Protection of Databases that it failed to ratify in December. No domestic consensus was ever reached on this measure here in the U.S. and strong opposition from AALL, the Digital Future Coalition (DFC), the scientific community and many others convinced the Administration to withdraw its support. We will continue to monitor developments and to work with AALL's Copyright Committee, the DFC, and the other library associations to try to maintain a balanced approach to intellectual property in the public interest. The Administration will likely send the two WIPO copyright treaties, along with any implementing legislation, to Congress by May.

The Copyright Term Extension Act of 1997 (H.R. 604) was introduced on February 5, 1997 and would extend the current copyright term of ownership, life of the author plus 50 years, by an additional 20 years. H.R. 604 includes an exemption for libraries and archives during the additional 20-year term that was developed during numerous negotiations and discussions last year. The Copyright Committee is reviewing H.R. 604 and the proposed library exemption.

Comments on "A Framework for Global Electronic Commerce"

Senior Clinton Advisor Ira Magaziner chaired a special interagency task force to develop principles to protect the Internet from new taxes, censorship or other constricting regulations so that electronic commerce continues to flourish. AALL commented on the draft report (see http://www.iitf.nist.gov/electronic_commerce.htm) in two separate letters, one from the DFC and one on behalf of the national library associations.

The DFC comments recommend revising the draft principles to promote balance between "protecting intellectual property from piracy" and "assuring access to information." Washington Affairs Representative Bob Oakley drafted the library associations' joint letter. Representing the interests of over 80,000 librarians and their institutions, Oakley noted positively that the draft includes protection for fair use of copyrighted materials. However, he also stated opposition to any laws or regulations that would restrict content on the Internet and warned that the trend towards private licensing of information could undermine the current balance in copyright law. Both letters are available on AALLWASH.