Washington Brief - November 1999

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Dateline: September 30, 1999

State-by-State Opposition to UCITA

Much has occurred since I reported in the September issue of Spectrum that the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) voted in July to adopt the Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act (UCITA), despite strong opposition from the library community and many others groups--and the withdrawal last May of the American Law Institute (ALI) from the drafting process. The dynamics have now changed and we are facing a state-by-state battle in which legislative hearings have already been held in several states. One of the projects of the Shared Legal Capability (AALL, ALA, ARL, MLA and SLA) is to develop a national coalition with allies beyond the library community. Equally important are our efforts to set up a task force within each state to mobilize members of the state library association, our various chapters and other libraries.

Virginia has been targeted by NCCUSL as one of the first states that they hope will adopt UCITA. To warn you of how the process may unfold in your own state, here's a summary of how it's moving forward in Virginia. The Legislature's Joint Commission on Technology and Science (JCOTS) held a September 21st meeting with NCCUSL member Carlyle Ring, Jr. on hand to present an overview of UCITA. The 42 members of the Digital Future Coalition (DFC) sent a letter to JCOTS Chairman Kenneth Plum prior to the meeting stating that UCITA "threatens the long-standing framework for the protection of American consumers and upsets the important balance between the users and creators of digitally-based products." Nonetheless, Ring played down the opposition, noting that some of it stems from the fact that UCITA is dealing with new technology, philosophical differences, and criticisms directed towards earlier drafts. Special thanks to VALL president Gail Zwirner and VALL members Charlie Oates and Tim Coggins for attending this important meeting. They were part of a larger turnout of Virginia librarians to demonstrate that our concerns indeed have not been met in the final version. To their credit, JCOTS has convened an advisory committee to function as a drafting, research, and review committee, and several librarians, including Jim Heller, are members. In addition, the commission has scheduled a hearing on UCITA for November 4th, and we are working to secure a witness slot for Sally Wiant to present testimony on behalf of the Virginia library community.

One of NCCUSL's strategies is that if several key states adopt UCITA in a timely and expeditious manner, other states will be inclined to quickly follow. As legislative activity moves out to more states, the GRC will be working closely with chapters to ensure that the law library community actively participates at the state level. Law librarians have been leaders in advocacy efforts on important federal issues such as database protection, digital copyright, and access to government information. While these efforts continue to be very important, your focus must now expand to what is happening in your state with UCITA. Watch for alerts, volunteer your expertise, engage with other state library groups, and we'll keep you posted as the legislation moves out to more states. To learn more about the JCOTS meeting and read Ring's handout, see http://legis.state.va.us/jcots/jcots.htm. For more information about the broad scope of opposition to UCITA, check out the following web sites: http://www.2bguide.com/drafts.html#final and http://www.badsoftware.com/.

Database Protection Bills

Staff of Rep. Tom Bliley (R-VA), chairman of the House Commerce Committee, and Rep. Howard Coble (R-VA) of the House Judiciary Committee did not meet as planned over the August recess to negotiate the fundamental differences between their two database protection bills. Nor have the reports yet been filed on H.R. 1858, the Commerce Committee's Consumer and Investor Access to Information Act of 1999 which we strongly support, or the Judiciary Committee's Collections of Information Antipiracy Act of 1999, H.R. 354, which we oppose. Negotiating sessions are just now beginning. As the two House committees grapple with these competing and very different approaches to database protection, your help is needed to enlist more co-sponsors for H.R. 1858 and support for our provision in H.R. 1858 excluding primary legal materials.

Call your representative today and urge them to co-sponsor H.R. 1858. If they are already among the 18 co-sponsors, be sure to thank them! For background information, see AALL's Issue Brief at: http://www.aallnet.org/aallwash/Isbrdata.asp. And if you haven't already subscribed to the new AALL-ADVOC listserv, we need your help! Please do so today by following the simple directions at: http://www.aallnet.org/aallwash/aalladvocsubscribe.asp.

House Hearing on NTIS

During the past month, I have attended numerous meetings with congressional staff, officials from the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), the Department of Commerce, the Government Printing Office, the Library of Congress, and the National Archives and Records Administration to discuss the likely closing of NTIS. The Department of Commerce is circulating their draft bill for agency comment, the Access to Government Scientific, Technical, and Engineering Information Act. It would close NTIS and move its functions to LC by the end of FY 2000. The September 14th hearing on NTIS by the House Science Committee's Subcommittee on Technology was very comprehensive. Chairwoman Connie Morella (R-MD-8) noted the financial problems faced by NTIS and at the same time acknowledged the need to preserve the agency's valuable functions and ensure equitable public access. The unique importance of NTIS' clearinghouse of over 3 million reports was reiterated by each of the witnesses. Their formal statements are now available at http://www.house.gov/science/106_hearing.htm#Technology. Ms. Caroline Long of George Washington University presented the joint library testimony, noting that:

First, NTIS should not be closed nor its services transferred until there is a thorough assessment of the full range of NTIS services, of alternatives for providing each service, and of the current requirement that the NTIS program be self-supporting.

Second, NTIS provides unique centralized services that are critically important to the ability of the public to locate and have access to the government's STI resources, including the tangible collection and current agency web-based publications.

And third, technology has not yet solved two key challenges in moving towards greater dissemination of STI reports through the Internet: those challenges are centralized bibliographic access and permanent public access.

The Senate Commerce Committee had planned to hold a hearing on September 29th, but that has been postponed presumably because they prefer to wait until the Commerce Department's bill is in hand.


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