Magazine article American Libraries

Intellectual Property Group Unveils Report; ALA Has Misgivings

Magazine article American Libraries

Intellectual Property Group Unveils Report; ALA Has Misgivings

Article excerpt

The federal government's Working Group on Intellectual Property, formed to assess the protection of intellectual property in a digital age and to recommend changes to the Copyright Act, released its long-awaited report, titled Intellectual Property and the National Information Infrastructure, Sept. 5.

When the working group circulated a draft version of the report for comments last year (AL, Oct. 1994, p. 808), ALA strongly criticized several of its suggestions, particularly the elimination of the "first sale doctrine" for electronic works and the requirement that a work's purpose for transmission be assessed to determine whether it was "distributed" or "performed" for purposes of the Copyright Act. ALA also urged the working group to make clear that libraries and others may freely use digital techniques for the preservation of copyrighted materials. Neither of those problematic proposals appears to have been incorporated in the final report, and the requested clarification on digital preservation was included.

Upon assessment of the 238-page report, ALA's Washington Office has identified these key points:

* Both the report and the agencies responsible for it appear almost totally focused on the information infrastructure's commercial potential. ALA feels that the information infrastructure can and should be used to expand markets, but that such expansion must be accompanied by the expansion of equitable public access to information. ALA rejects the report's notion that the protection of copyright owners is the basis of copyright law, contending instead that the law is based on a presumption in favor of the wide dissemination of ideas.

* The report appears to be based on the premise that only the legal protection of copyrighted works - and the consequent restriction of their use - will spur creativity. ALA has long rejected that argument, noting the critical role that open access to material has played in the production of new copyrighted works (new motion picture versions of Pocahontas and The Scarlet Letter, for example).

* Introducing the report, Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks Bruce Lehman noted that great advances are being made in the ability to license the use of copyrighted material online, and he urged publishers to work with schools and libraries to establish suitable licensing arrangements. ALA will continue to work to assure that established exceptions from copyright restrictions for libraries and the codified concept of fair use are not undermined by such innovation.

* Finally, observes the Washington Office, the report conspicuously fails to clarify that libraries and schools may use digital technology to expand distance learning opportunities (especially for rural Americans) by expanding current interlibrary loan options and creating more accessible "digital libraries" and "electronic reserve rooms" for far-flung students.

The full text of the report is available on the Internet at, or by using gopher or telnet to reach A print copy is available by mailing a request to Intellectual Property and the NII, c/o Terri Southwick, Office of Legislative and Congressional Affairs, Patent and Trademark Office, Box 4, Washington, DC 20231. …

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