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Copyright Hearings Continue on Capitol Hill

Library Copyright Alliance
The House Judiciary Committee continues to move forward with hearings addressing Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s (R-VA) call for a comprehensive review of U.S. copyright law. Within the past 10 days the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet has held two hearings regarding copyright and the role it plays in innovation.

The first of these hearings, titled “Innovation in America: The Role of Copyrights”, was held on July 24. Unsurprisingly, the hearing focused on the testimony of groups representing rights holders like the Copyright Alliance and the American Society of Media Photographers among others.  Much attention was given to the effectiveness of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the alleged need for more piracy protection. The Library Copyright Alliance (LCA), of which ALA is a member, issued this statement before the hearing. Borrowing from the conclusion, LCA asks that:

As Congress proceeds with this examination of copyright reform, it must bear in mind that it needs to balance not only the interests of the copyright industry and the technology industry, but also the interests of authors and the public as well as established authors and new authors.

On Thursday, August 1, the same subcommittee held a hearing called, “Innovation in America: The Role of Technology.” If the point of the July 24 hearing was to hear from rights holders, it was clear this hearing aimed to give voice to the technology industry. Of particular interest to libraries was the testimony of Jim Fruchterman, president and CEO of Benetech and a frequent collaborator with ALA. In his role at Benetech, Fruchterman has overseen the launch of Bookshare, the world’s largest online library for people with print disabilities.

In his oral testimony, Fruchterman noted the importance of two specific copyright provisions in allowing Benetech to create this online library. One being Section 121, or the Chafee Amendment, that allows authorized entities like Bookshare (and other libraries) to create accessible versions of copyrighted books without permission from the copyright holder and then distribute them exclusively to people with qualifying disabilities. The second principle he noted, the fair use exception, allows libraries of all types to have the flexibility to carry out their mission of providing access to information.

On the subject of what truly fosters innovation, Fruchterman notes in his written testimony that, “we must keep the balance in copyright. We need to defend fair use as a laboratory for creativity. And we can’t use moral panics and wild claims of economic damages to constrain innovation in advance.”

Congress will go on recess for most of August. It is expected there will be more copyright hearings in the fall. Check back on the District Dispatch for updates and news as the expectedly long process of copyright review continues.

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Ted Wegner is a former member of the Washington Office government relations team.


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