By Wipond, Rob
The Humanist , Vol. 56, No. 4
The American Library Association is alerting its members and the general public about two bills pending in Congress. The first is House Resolution 2441, the National Information Infrastructure Copyright Protection Act of 1995, a legislative package heavily promoted by the motion-picture, recording, and publishing industries. If passed in its present form, it would: make it a copyright violation simply to browse the Internet without a license from copyright owners whose work appears there; subject computer-systems operators, including those of on-line services and networks in schools and libraries, to potentially crippking liability for the copyright violations of their users (even if the operator had no knowledge of such violations); and overrule long-standing Supreme Court precedent by making it illegal to manufacture, import, or distribute "any device, product, or component incorporated into a device" that can circumvent copyright (an ill-considered and overbroad prohibition which would effectively outlaw computers, computer software, modems, VCRs, copy machines, and other communications equipment).
The other bill is H.R. 989, the Copyright Term Extension Act, which the Intellectual Property Subcommittee is planning to wrap into H.R. 2441. In its current form, H.R. 989 would extend the term of copyright protection for published materials by 20 years and unpublished material by 10 years--thus imposing a 10-to 20-year moratorium on works about to enter the public domain. The costs to future librarians of tracking down the owners of these works--which could be 100 or more years old--would force libraries to divert money better spent serving the public. By wrapping H.R. 989 into H.R. 2441, the House would effectively short-circuit ongoing negotiations between the American Library Association and major copyright industries to craft an exemption from the term extension for libraries, archives, and nonprofit educational institutions so that they might continue to use the latest technologies to preserve deteriorating older works and to have sufficient copies of those works on hand and in easily accessible electronic form form guarantee their survival. Those negotiations, mediated by the Registrar of Copyrights, began last October.
The House Judiciary Committee's Intellectual Property Subcommittee completed its hearings on H.R. 2441 in February 1996 and, on May 15, began considering amendments to the bill in order to prepare it in its final form for going to the floor.
Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held the first of its own (nonjoint) hearings on these bills on May 7, is taking a far more deliberate approach and has indicated that changed need to be made to protect libraries and schools.
The ALA asks that the two bills not be voted out of the committees of either house unless and until they are amended to avoid the above problems; include provisions protecting "distance education," a process vital to rural communities and the disabled; and include the series of amendments proposed by the Digital Future Coalition to allow industry, libraries, and schools to make "fair use" of encrypted information, including that appearing on the Internet. The ALA declares that, if Congress is to update copyright law for the digital age, the rights and needs of both copyright owners and information users must be fully respected and advanced. …