Library broadband takes center stage at IMLS hearing

 

Larra Clark of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy speaks on panel.

Larra Clark of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy speaks on panel.

The ongoing digital revolution continues to create new opportunities for education, entrepreneurship, job skills training and more. Those of us with home broadband, smartphones or both can easily take advantage of these opportunities. However, for millions of Americans currently living without personal access to high-capacity internet or who lack digital literacy skills, libraries serve as the on-ramp to the digital world. With a growing number of people turning to libraries to avail themselves of broadband-enabled technologies, library networks are being strained more than ever before. Yesterday, the Institute for Library and Museum Services (IMLS) held a public hearing to discuss the importance of high-speed connectivity in libraries and outline strategies for helping libraries expand bandwidth to accommodate growing network use.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Thomas Wheeler’s opening remarks set the tone for the day: “Andrew Carnegie built 2,500 libraries in a public-private partnership, defining information access for millions of people for more than a century,” he said. “We stand on the precipice of being able to have the same kind of seminal impact on the flow of information and ideas in the 21st century…That’s why reform of the E-rate program is so essential. The library has always been the on-ramp to the world of information and ideas, and now that on-ramp is at gigabit speeds.”

The hearing convened three expert panels, each of which discussed a different dimension of library connectivity. The first panel propounded strategies for helping libraries procure the resources they need to build network capacity. Chris Jowaisas of the Gates Foundation urged libraries to underscore the ways in which their activities advance the goals of top giving foundations. “[Libraries should]…package their services to meet foundation needs,” Jowaisas said. “With a robust and reliable broadband connection, libraries and communities can move into more areas of exploration and innovation. The foundation hopes the network of supporters of this vision grows because we have seen and learned first-hand from investments in public libraries that they are key organizations for growing opportunity.”

Following his remarks, Clarence Anthony of the National League of Cities stressed the need for the library community to ramp up its efforts to make government leaders aware of the extent to which urban communities rely on libraries for broadband access.

The second panel analyzed current library connectivity data and identified areas where the data falls short in assessing broadband capacity. Larra Clark of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy drew on 20 years of research to illustrate that the progress libraries have made in expanding bandwidth—while meaningful—has generally not proven sufficient to accommodate the growing needs of users. About 9 percent of public libraries reported speeds of 100 Mbps or greater in the 2012 Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study, and the forthcoming Digital Inclusion Survey shows this number has only climbed to 12 percent. More than 66 percent of public libraries report they would like to increase their broadband connectivity speeds. “Libraries aren’t standing still, but too many are falling behind,” Clark said.

Researcher John Horrigan also gave the audience a preview of forthcoming research looking at Americans’ levels of digital readiness, which finds significant variations in digital skills even among people who are highly connected to digital tools. Of the 80 percent of Americans with home broadband or a smartphone, nearly one-fifth (or 34 million adults) has a low level of digital skills. “(Libraries) are the vanguard in the forces we bring to bear to bolster digital readiness,” Horrigan noted. “Libraries will have more demands placed upon them, which makes the case for ensuring they have the resources to meet these demands compelling.”

The final panel built on the capacity-building strategies offered by Jowaisas and Anthony by providing real-world examples of successful efforts to expand library bandwidth. Gary Wasdin of the Omaha Public Library System discussed ways in which his libraries are leveraging federal dollars to engage private funders in efforts to build broadband capacity, and Eric Frederick of Connect Michigan described how public-private synergies are improving library connectivity in his state. The final panelist was Linda Lord, Maine state librarian and chair of ALA’s E-rate Task Force. Lord discussed ALA’s efforts to inform the FCC’s ongoing E-rate modernization proceeding. “ALA envisions that all libraries will be at a gig (1Gbps) by 2018”, Lord said. The E-rate program provides schools and libraries with telecommunications services at discounted rates. Linda went on to clearly articulate ALA’s commitment to updating the program to help libraries address 21st century challenges.

Libraries and library users can add to the IMLS hearing record on the urgency and impact of library broadband by submitting comments by April 24. View C-SPAN coverage of the hearing.

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Posted in E-Rate, Events, OGR, OITP, Public Libraries

Indexing the internet and searching for “free”

The Botnet

The Botnet

“If we can put a man on the moon and we can transplant a heart, we surely can say when something shows up ‘free’ and do something about that.” Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA).

In March, the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet held a hearing on Section 512, the provision that provides protection for internet service providers from liability for the infringing actions of network users. The Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) submitted comments (pdf) in support of no changes to the existing law, holding that this provision helps libraries provide online services in good faith without liability for the potentially illegal actions of a third party.

Though libraries were not specifically represented in the hearing, one line of questioning directed at both Google and Automattic Inc.—owner of WordPress—stands out as relevant to both present and future methods of delivering content and services to library patrons: “free” as the opposite of “legal” or “legitimate.”

Several representatives focused on witnesses Katherine Oyama, senior copyright policy counsel for Google, and Paul Sieminski, general counsel for Automattic Inc., expressing significant confusion about how Google creates and modifies indexing and search algorithms, as well as the nuances of copyright protection on a blogging platform. “Free” was the watchword, and many subcommittee members expressed the same basic concerns.

copyright pirate imageRep. Judy Chu (D-CA) asked about autocomplete results in Google that include “free” and “watch online,” saying that such results “induce infringement” on the part of searchers. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) further echoed worries that unsophisticated Internet users like his grandmother would be “induced to infringe” by seeing an autocomplete result for “watch 12 Years a Slave free online.”

But the most colorful exchange began with Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) expressing disbelief that Google could not simply ban or remove terms such as “watch X movie online for free” from the engine.

Oyama rightly pointed out that “we are not going to ban the word ‘free’ from search…there are many legitimate sources for music and films that are available for free.” She also promoted YouTube’s ContentID software as an effective answer to alleged infringement, though there are certainly reasons to remain wary of the “software savior” in addressing takedown notices (more on ContentID coming soon).

As libraries begin exploring ways to deliver legally obtained and responsibly monitored content to patrons, we will have to offer a counterpoint to the concept of “free” as the automatic enemy of rights holders. While we know that it is anything but free to provide these services (no-fee or no-charge is perhaps a better description), the public often perceives it as such, and simply banning phrases like “read for free” or “watch for free” from the world’s largest Internet index will not reduce infringement. Instead, it removes a responsible and reliable source from top page results, which is the exact opposite of what the lawmakers above support.

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Posted in Copyright, OITP

Appeals court decision undermines free speech, misinterprets copyright law

Last week, the American Library Association (ALA) joined an amicus brief calling for reconsideration of a 9th circuit court decision in Garcia v. Google, case where actress Cindy Sue Garcia sued Google for not removing a YouTube video in which she appears. Garcia appears for five seconds in “Innocence of Muslims,” the radical anti-Islamic video that fueled the attack on the American embassy in Benghazi. The video was uploaded on YouTube, exposing Garcia to threats and hate mail. Garcia did not know that her five second performance would be used in a controversial video.

Garcia turned to the copyright law for redress, arguing that her five second performance was protected by copyright, and therefore, as a rights holder she could ask that the video be removed from YouTube. While we empathize with Garcia’s situation, the copyright law does not protect performances in film—instead these performances are works-for-hire. This ruling, if taken to its extreme, would hold that anyone who worked on a film—from the editor to the gaffer—could claim rights, creating a copyright permissions nightmare.

On appeal, the judge agreed that the copyright argument was weak, but nonetheless ruled for Garcia. The video currently is not available for public review. This decision needs to be reheard en banc—the copyright ruling is mistaken, and perhaps more importantly, the copyright law cannot be used to restrain speech. While the facts of this case are not at all appealing, we agree that rules of law need to be upheld. Fundamental values of librarianship—including intellectual freedom, fair use, and preservation of the cultural record—are in serious conflict with the existing court ruling.

Read more on the case.

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Posted in Copyright

Takedown notice ≠ infringement

Google ScreenAmidst a flurry of congressional hearings and treaty negotiations, it is important to remember that statistics often tell half of the story. As I catch up on recent U.S. House subcommittee hearings, I continue to marvel at how often both committee members and witnesses conflate a total number of takedown notices with actual cases of infringement. This is not a new problem; the “Chilling Effect” is a well-documented (pdf) result of widespread abuse of Section 512 takedown notices. In 2009, Google reported that over a third of DMCA takedown notices were invalid:

Google notes that more than half (57%) of the takedown notices it has received under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act 1998, were sent by business targeting competitors and over one third (37%) of notices were not valid copyright claims.

And that doesn’t even include YouTube or Blogger takedown statistics! The numbers aren’t much better today. Google’s latest Transparency Report shows over 27 million removal requests over the past three years, with nearly a million of those requests denied (requests cited as “improper” or “abusive”) in 2011 alone. Many rights holders will continue to point to takedown notice numbers as evidence of widespread infringement, but this simply bolsters a landscape in which everybody is guilty until proven innocent of violating copyright.

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Posted in Copyright, Legislation, OITP

ALA to participate in IMLS hearing on libraries and broadband

Tom Wheeler

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler will speak at the IMLS hearing.

On Thursday, April 17, 2014, from 9:30–11:30 a.m., leaders from the American Library Association (ALA) will participate in “Libraries and Broadband: Urgency and Impact,” a public hearing hosted by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) that will explore the need for high-speed broadband in American libraries. Larra Clark, director of the ALA Program on Networks, and Linda Lord, ALA E-rate Task Force Chair and Maine State Librarian, will present on two panels.

The hearing, which takes place during National Library Week (April 13–19, 2014), will explore innovative library practices, partnerships and strategies for serving our communities; share available research on library broadband connections and services; and discuss solutions for improving library connectivity to drive education, community and economic development. During her discussion, Clark will share findings from relevant library research managed by the ALA Office for Research & Statistics, including the IMLS-funded Digital Inclusion Survey and the Public Libraries Funding Technology Access Study, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Lord will discuss ALA e-rate policy recommendations for boosting libraries toward gigabit broadband speeds.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Thomas Wheeler will make opening remarks at the hearing, and expert panelists from across the library, technology, and public policy spectrum will explore the issue of high-speed broadband in America’s libraries. IMLS Director Susan H. Hildreth will chair the hearing along with members of the National Museum Services Board including, Christie Pearson Brandau of Iowa, Charles Benton of Illinois, Winston Tabb of Maryland, and Carla Hayden also of Maryland.

Interested participants may register to attend the event in-person at D.C.’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. Alternatively, participants can also tune into event virtually, as IMLS will stream the hearing live on YouTube or Google+. Library staff may also participate by submitting written comments sharing their successes, challenges or other input related to library broadband access and use into the hearing record on or before April 24, 2014. Each comment must include the author’s name and organizational affiliation, if any, and sent to comments@imls.gov. Guidance for submitting testimony is available here (pdf).

 

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Posted in E-Rate, Events, OITP

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