Washington Brief - July 2004

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Washington Brief
By Mary Alice Baish

Dateline: May 14, 2004

Janis Johnston Testifies at GPO Oversight Hearing
AALL President Janis Johnston presented testimony on behalf of five national library organizations--AALL, ALA, ARL, MLA and SLA--before the Committee on House Administration at the April 28th oversight hearing on the Government Printing Office (GPO). She began her statement by affirming our strong commitment to public access to government information and a robust Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) in the 21st Century. She also asked members of the committee, and indeed all members of Congress, to reaffirm the public's right to no-fee access to government information. Johnston noted that the more than 1200 Federal depository libraries come in all shapes and sizes--public, academic, law, special, Federal agency, research and medical libraries. The FDLP must recognize that different types of libraries have different needs and serve different users. She expressed her concern that some depository libraries are dropping out of the program for a number of different reasons. She pointed out in particular that GPO has decreased significantly the number of print titles distributed through the program over the past several years, mostly as a result of the increased amount of "born digital" government information.

Johnston explained to the committee that GPO should strive to provide documents to depository libraries in the most suitable format to meet their users' needs. She pointed out that users of legal government information often require access to authenticated legal materials. Today, important legal titles available only electronically through the Internet, whether through GPO Access or on agency, congressional or court web sites, are not authenticated. As an example, in her oral comments she quoted the following disclaimer for the electronic version of Supreme Court slip opinions on the Court's web site: "These electronic opinions may contain computer-generated errors or other deviations from the official printed slip opinion pamphlets." This important point seemed to resonate with some of the committee members.

In addition, vast quantities of "born digital" documents appear and disappear from government web sites without notice and without any trace. Johnston pointed to a recent Mellon study which found that the average duration of an electronic publication on a government web site is only 4 months. No process is in place government wide to ensure the entire lifecycle of electronic government information, from creation, to management and dissemination, to permanent public access and preservation. She concluded her remarks by warning that as the government and its information become increasingly electronic, more and more information is at risk of becoming irretrievably lost not only to this generation, but also to all future generations. In thanking Johnston for her statement and her appearance before the committee, Ranking Member John Larson (D-CT-1) said that he is simpatico to her concerns. You'll find Johnston's statement at: http://www.aallnet.org/aallwash/st04282004.html.

Public Printer Bruce James also testified at the hearing and said that he plans to unveil his new strategic plan for the GPO this summer following the completion of a study by the General Accounting Office. So we are likely to see another congressional hearing on GPO either this fall or early next year. In the meantime, please join us for program C-2 in Boston on "The Virtual Federal Depository Library Program: A Reality for the 21st Century" (Monday, July 12th, 9 to 10 a.m.). Public Printer James will discuss with us his vision for the GPO and the FDLP, as well as his new strategic plan.

Hearing on H.R. 107--More Co-Sponsors Needed!
We were very pleased that the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection held a hearing on May 12, 2004 on H.R. 107, the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act of 2003 (DMCRA). The two lead sponsors of the bill, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA-9) and Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA-4), appeared before the subcommittee. They noted that while that they supported the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (P.L. 105-304), six years later it is clear to them that the DMCA has eroded user rights. Their bill would restore the historic balance in U.S. copyright law by reaffirming fair use. Under the DMCRA, it would not be a violation of Section 1201 of the DMCA to circumvent a technological measure in connection with gaining access to or using a digital work if the circumvention does not result in an infringement of the copyright in the work. The library community strongly supports H.R. 107 because it reaffirms fair use in a networked environment; resolves key concerns regarding hardware and software that permit significant non-infringing uses; and allows researchers to engage in the scientific research of technological protection measures.

This is one of the most significant and balanced copyright hearings in memory. I applaud the subcommittee's leadership, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL-6) and Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-IL-9), for inviting twelve individuals equally representative of both the content and public interest communities to testify. Among the witnesses were Stanford Law Professor Larry Lessig; Jack Valenti, president and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America; Miriam Nisbet, legislative counsel for the ALA Washington Office who testified on behalf of the library community; and Robert Holleyman, president and CEO of the Business Software Alliance. Lessig argued that today, copyright law is a tool of the dominant commercial interests to prevent competition, and that fair use for the digital age must be restored. Valenti countered by arguing that H.R. 107 would legalize hacking of copy protection measures and put at risk our nation's intellectual property industry that comprises more than 5% of our GDP. Nisbet explained that the DMCA provided additional protections for copyright owners but it omitted corresponding allowances for fair use and other exceptions that are crucial for libraries to fulfill their mission in the digital age. The hearing lasted more than five hours. You'll find both the web cast of the hearing and links to the witnesses' statements on the Energy and Commerce Committee's web site. Lastly, please check THOMAS for the current list of cosponsors of H.R. 107 and contact your representative to either urge them to become a cosponsor or thank them for their support!

Mary Alice Baish
Associate Washington Affairs Representative
Edward B. WIlliams Law Library
111 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001-1417
202/662-9200 * FAX:202/662-9202
email:baish@law.georgetown.edu

 


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