ALA discusses intellectual property enforcement

Responding to a request for input on the Joint Strategic Plan on Intellectual Property Enforcement, the American Library Association (ALA) submitted formal comments to the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator through the Library Copyright Alliance.

Girl creating in library maker space

Student creating a product in Detroit public library maker space. Courtesy of Detroit Public Library.

To highlight those comments, I offer a few observations of a more informal nature on intellectual property enforcement:

  • Kids and others (e.g., designers, entrepreneurs, and researchers) who engage in the creative process, with no intent of intellectual property infringement, must not be inhibited in their lawful activities. Continued U.S. leadership in the global economy demands the innovative contributions from as many Americans as possible and so creative efforts need to be encouraged at every opportunity and at every age (from kindergarteners to senior scholars).
  • Those engaged in deliberate large-scale infringement need to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Librarians strongly believe in the rule of law and ethical behavior, and indeed are considered to be amongst the most trustworthy of community members.
  • Law enforcement—whether for intellectual property or in our communities (referring to police forces)—properly focuses on criminal perpetrators and especially on the most egregious among them. At the same time, police forces reach out to the broader community, realizing that understanding of and support for their actions by law-abiding people are critical for society. Police forces also appreciate that long-lasting reduction in crime depends on affecting its root causes—which extend well beyond the latest infraction.

Every day, people use libraries to engage in creativity. Youth come to libraries to experiment in maker spaces, use 3D printers, produce in video studios and, of course, to explore the dizzying range of digital content and services now available. I recall my own childhood and the frequent visits to the local public library and school library. Of course, the technology in that time was rather different than today’s, but the purpose was the same. I was there to work on schoolwork and explore—to play, not on a jungle gym but among the stacks and other library paraphernalia. There was no nefarious purpose. Whatever is pursued with respect to intellectual property policy, we must not squash the ability or motivation of our youth to learn and play—to foster the foundational creativity essential for America’s future.

Of course, not only kids are implicated. Adults, from college students and entrepreneurs to immigrants and retirees, engage digital content and services in all manner of ways. Libraries provide guidance on digital literacy, just as they have done so before the digital era, educating the public on how to exercise the full extent of their rights (e.g., fair use) under copyright (and other) law, but to respect and not go beyond the law.

The Office of the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator has a high profile and influence with its place at the Office of Management and Budget in the Executive Office of the President. As the Office focuses on pure enforcement matters, as it must, we also ask it to consider the implications of its actions on public policy in the larger context. The Office’s decisions influence information policy beyond its formal purview—especially considering that there is no Office for Intellectual Property for the General Public—and so responsibility for doing good for the country overall also falls within the Office’s domain. We wish  Danny Marti, coordinator of the Office, and his colleagues well as they work on behalf of all Americans.

About Alan Inouye

Alan S. Inouye is the director of ALA's Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP). Previously, he was the coordinator of the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee in the Executive Office of the President and a study director at the National Academy of Sciences. Alan completed his Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley.

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