“How do you plead?” Guilty on all counts for thinking E-rate is cool

Phone rings. Caller asks: “What are you working on?”

Answer: “E-rate.”

Dinner conversation: “What did you talk about today, mom?”

Answer (supplied by child 2 and 3 in unison): “E-rate.”

Latest office joke: “Why is Marijke in traffic court?”

Answer: “E-rate.”

E-rate, broadband, and the goals that have guided us

For those of you following the American Library Association’s (ALA) E-rate year, we are working through the fifth major installment in a series of actions by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), responding to the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) issued in July as part of the E-rate Modernization Order. And, because we have been immersed in E-rate pretty steadily for a year, the topic “E-rate Modernization” is really the only answer to questions about what I do.

As we prepare for both ALA’s comments on the FNPRM (comments due to the Commission September 15—so why am I writing a blog post instead of drafting a response to questions on multi-year contracts?) and for our panel session at the 2014 Telecommunications Policy Research Conference (which will take place amazingly on September 12th), I have been reflecting over the ways in which we have engaged with the Commission, the Hill, our coalitions, our members, other library organizations, the press, and others to make strategic decisions and identify ALA’s policy positions.

If I am boastful, I can say, that we worked diligently over the last year. If I am critical, I can see a series of tipping points where we chose one path over another, which opened opportunities while closing off others. Either way, the decisions we made were in line with the goals we set for ALA at the beginning of the E-rate proceeding, which we saw then and now as an opportunity to increase the percentage of libraries with high-capacity broadband at affordable rates. The goals we set include:

  • Increase library participation in the E-rate program.
  • Increase broadband capacity for libraries.
  • Increase the over-all size of the fund.

Shaping what you have into what you want

Our first choice for the Commission would have been to tackle the “fiber gap” (term that has emerged in the second phase of the Modernization) among libraries before addressing the Wi-Fi- gap. However, when it became apparent that the Commission would address the lack of Wi-Fi capacity for libraries and schools first, we focused on that priority and the commitment of the Commission that this was one phase of a multi-phase process.

At that point we had to answer the question, “What could we gain for libraries in this first step while holding out for a larger pay-off in the second phase?” The interplay between this short-term and long-term strategizing colored the last stages of our advocacy at the Commission and among stakeholders, and with our members and library organizations. Now that we are officially in the second phase, our sleeves are rolled up, teeth bared and claws extended.

These thoughts, as well as “OMG, what are we doing about data that describes the costs to get libraries up to the 1 gigabit goal” ran through my head while I waited for my turn before the bench at traffic court. And why did I spend my afternoon in traffic court? Did you think this was going to be a concise blog post? Is anything E-rate related concise?

E-rate enables anywhere, anytime learning

At the height of negotiations to come to an Order—which we fully supported happening—there was significant back-and-forth among various stakeholders (each with different agendas), numerous ex parte meetings with Commission staff and long phone calls and meetings at the Washington Office. Coincidentally, my then 10th-grade son’s history class unit was on regulatory agencies, and being a teacher at heart, how could I help myself? The E-rate Modernization proceeding makes a perfect case study for a lesson on the responsibilities of federal regulatory agencies and of Congress and how good public policy is made. Poor kid, right? On the contrary.

Explaining E-rate and talking about how a relatively small player like ALA advocates effectively became an exemplary mashup of teen culture and wonky discussions. For example, what do you say to someone who shares information that is not ready to be shared? “Not cool dude.” Getting libraries included routinely in mentions of E-rate? “That’s a mission.” If, in a public document, there is language that could be interpreted such that it clearly dismissed one perspective in favor of another but not overtly, how would you describe this action? “Sneak dissing.” And to the discussion that resulted in traffic court, how does an advocate tread the fine line between passion for an issue and rational decision-making and how does an advocate prevent a personal agenda from influencing strategy on behalf of stakeholders?

Despite my New England pragmatism and Dutch stubbornness, I have a good dose of southern French exuberance. So, in the heat of describing the latest battle, making an extremely important point to the 10th grader about the appalling vitriol that had emerged at the tail end of the proceeding before the July Commission vote that resulted in the Order and FNPRM and how that vitriol was unfortunately influencing policy… I may have not come to a complete stop. Result? An afternoon in traffic court. “Kiiillll” said with appropriate sighing and disbelief (reflecting the sentiment in teen-speak). This may be the only record of a moving violation caused by E-rate (“That’s a bet” or more simply, “bet!”).

So at the recommendation of the police officer issuing the ticket, I plead “guilty with an explanation.” My explanation? “E-rate is really cool.”

Posted in E-Rate, OITP, Public Libraries, Telecommunications Tagged with: ,

Add your voice to FCC public comment on network neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has heard from more than 1 million commenters on proposed rulemaking to Protect and Promote the Open Internet, including from the American Library Association (ALA), Association for College & Research Libraries (ACRL), the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). But it’s not too late to add your voice in support of network neutrality.

September is a perfect time to add more voices from the library and education community. Working with EDUCAUSE, ALA has developed a template letter of support for our comments that you can use to amplify our voice. Click here (doc) to open the document, customize with your information and follow guidelines for submission to FCC.

ALA is meeting with FCC officials, and there is definite interest in our perspective as advocates for intellectual freedom and equity of access to information for all. Please consider strengthening our presence as a community in the public record.

The formal “reply” comment period of the FCC proceeding will close September 15, but “ex parte” comments will be accepted until further notice. The FCC hoped to deliver a new Order on network neutrality by the end of the year, but this could be delayed as the commission considers the broad public input and a range of proposals and perspectives.

As always, more background and related news can be found online. Stay tuned!

Posted in Network Neutrality, OITP Tagged with: , , , ,

Now available: Archived copyright session

Video from the interactive copyright webinar “International Copyright and Library Practices” is now available. The online seminar covered the basics of international copyright and how it applies to use of foreign works by libraries and in educational settings in the United States. The American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Information Technology Policy Copyright Education Subcommittee hosted the educational webinar.

Janice T. Pilch discussed international copyright practices during the webinar. Pilch is a copyright and licensing librarian and a member of the faculty of Rutgers University Libraries and a former chair of the ALA OITP Copyright Education Subcommittee. From 2007-2011, Pilch served as an international copyright advocate for the Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and other international organizations to promote fair and equitable access to information. She served as Visiting Program Officer on International Copyright for the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) from 2009-2010. She is currently the U.S. representative to the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) Committee on Copyright and Other Legal Matters, and chairs a permanent committee on copyright issues within the Association of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies.

Posted in Copyright, OITP Tagged with: , ,

The sweep of fair use guidelines


I occasionally conduct copyright workshops, particularly at state library associations. I like to talk about the purpose of copyright and of course, fair use. At the last conference, after I made some comments about fair use guidelines (pdf), a workshop attendee declared, “You are blowing my mind.” (Think about “blowing someone’s mind.” Of course, it is just a saying, but I did feel a momentary sense of power.) What I was saying about fair use guidelines? They are “made up,” and do not have the force and effect of the copyright law.

This reminds me of a time years ago at an ALA conference when I was talking to a school librarian about fair use. He said that the fair use guidelines help him manage copyright issues at his school. I said, “Well, you know the fair use guidelines are not in the copyright law.”

He said, “Yes they are.”

“No, they’re not.”

“Yes they are.”

“No, they’re not.”

He insisted, “Yes they are, the guidelines are in Section 159” (or some number he pulled from air).

This librarian so wanted to believe that the fair use guidelines are the law that he made up a section of the copyright law where they supposedly exist. After finally convincing him that the guidelines were that, just guidelines and not fair use, he whispered, “Don’t tell the teachers.”

Understanding the copyright law requires a good deal of “unlearning.” The fair use guidelines are those rules that tell you that, for non-profit educational purposes, using some percentage of a protected work is fair, and supposedly any higher amount is not fair. You can find a slew of them on the Web.


Text Material: Up to 10 percent or 1,000 words, whichever is less, of a single copyrighted work of text.

Motion Media: Up to 10 percent or 3 minutes, whichever is less, of a single copyrighted motion media work.

My favorite

Poems: An entire poem of less than 250 words, but no more than three poems by one poet or five poems by different poets from a single anthology. In longer poems, the 250-word limit still applies, plus no more than three excerpts by one poet or five excerpts by different poets from a single anthology may be used.

If this “rule” were true, it would mean that copying 251 words of a poem is an infringement of copyright regardless of the situation. Doesn’t that just sound silly?

How will we know when a use of a work is fair? Congress suggested that a stakeholder group meet, and taking all opinions into account, build a sharing understanding of what fair use looks like.

The fair use guidelines were designed, in part, to help librarians make decisions about fair use in the classroom setting because librarians and educators wanted more clarity about fair use. Librarians loved guidelines for a time and many institutions adopted them. They are handy, if you want to quickly respond to a copyright question with a definite-sounding answer. And the answer is “30 seconds,” period. They make things easier, and many people like a “bright line” between fair and not fair.

Bright lines encourage short term decision-making about copyright without considering the long-term consequences. They can also be used to “freeze” fair use, and fair use needs to be flexible enough to work in a variety of situations, now and in the future. Bright lines also give people the false hope that by adhering to the guidelines, they are in a “safe harbor” and will never be sued. Librarians began to think of the guidelines as law, not realizing that strict adherence would quash creativity and learning. I wager it was around this time that librarians became known as “the copyright police.”

Where did these arbitrary rules come from? As the drafting of the Copyright Law of 1976 worked its (long) way through the legislative process, fair use was codified in the statute for the first time. But what is fair use? How will we know when a use of a work is fair? Congress suggested that a stakeholder group meet, and taking all opinions into account, build a sharing understanding of what fair use looks like. The stakeholder group included publisher and author association representatives, met and came up with classroom guidelines, probably with good intentions. The most important thing for librarians was that the guidelines were easy, and they could rest assure that they would not make mistakes when using fair use, and therefore, not get into trouble. Not only did librarians fear the worse, they were a rule-oriented bunch and disliked ambiguity. Of course it did not help that the American Library Association published its own set of guidelines (pdf) based on the classroom guidelines.

Fortunately, over the last 20 years, many librarians slowly abandoned fair use guidelines in favor of fair use. Fair use education and advocacy has made a real difference. Libraries have used fair use to address distance education, course reserves, orphan works and mass digitization.

But the guideline defenders are out there. For those who find themselves in a copyright bind, a guideline chart that you can find somewhere on the web comes in handy because then you do not have to think critically. Educators and librarians still use the guidelines to make a quick and dirty decision while thoughtful inquiry is prudent, and professionally responsive to information users.

Posted in Copyright, Public Libraries, School Libraries Tagged with: ,

Margaret Kavaras Appointed as OITP Research Associate

Margaret PhotoToday, the American Library Association (ALA) announces the appointment of Margaret Kavaras as a Research Associate for the organization’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP). As part of the OITP Fellows Program, Kavaras may work on diverse issues in information technology policy within the OITP portfolio.

Kavaras previously worked for the technology policy unit as a Google Policy Fellow during the summer of 2014. Her appointment as a Research Associate will extend from September 1, 2014, through August 31, 2015. She is a graduate student in public administration at Central European University in Budapest. Kavaras completed her undergraduate degree in international affairs and history at George Washington University.

Kavaras will continue her work on her Living Stories, Living Libraries website. Her work as a Research Associate will include synthesizing the content on the website for use in public policy advocacy.

The OITP Fellows Program serves to draw on nationally recognized researchers, practitioners and policy advocates in library and information sciences or allied areas to strengthen the OITP’s involvement in national policy discussions. In 2011, OITP expanded this program by creating Research Associates, who are early-career professionals with demonstrated potential and serious interest in national public policy engagement.

Posted in OITP Tagged with: ,


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