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Top secret, hush, hush

The American Library Association touts the importance of the free flow of information and access to information especially from the government and the public sector. A lack of government transparency only leads to speculation and a distrust of the government.  ALA has a Government Documents Round Table whose members focus on effective access to government information. The ALA Washington Office regularly advocates for government transparency.  The Intellectual Freedom Office fights censorship.  Access to information is a core value of librarianship.  Obviously this access thing is a big deal for the library profession. We are heavily invested in information access and government transparency—tenets that support democracy.

"Confidential" highlighted in yellow.
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So, it’s no wonder that librarians were surprised to hear at the ALA Annual conference that the U.S. Copyright Office planned to hold closed meetings to discuss revision of Section 108, the “library exception.” The process was announced in the Federal Register on June 2.  Interested parties were asked to schedule a meeting with the Copyright Office, located in Washington, DC. (Soon after the announcement the Copyright Office said that phone conversations could also be scheduled).  There will be no public record of who attends the meetings or what is discussed.  The Library Copyright Alliance has scheduled a private meeting with the Copyright Office to share our thoughts on section 108 revision – after all, libraries are the beneficiaries of the “library exception.” And we have already shared what we think about revision of the law (repeatedly), and we are against it.  But the very fact that these discussions are confidential takes a lot of nerve.  We have never heard of an instance where a government agency seeking public comment does not provide public access to the comments.  This is not a national security issue after all.  Section 108 is about interlibrary loan, preservation and replacement of library resources, and copies that libraries can make for users, not global surveillance programs.

Admittedly, the Copyright Office has been upfront about it.  They believe that Section 108 needs to be updated to better reflect the digital environment.  Indeed, they have said that Section 108 needs to be re-written altogether.  They have already drafted Section 108 legislation that we haven’t seen.  In short, they have already made a decision on what they are going to recommend to Congress, and the purpose of these closed meetings is merely a consummation.

I stopped by the Library of Congress exhibit space while at ALA Annual, talked to a representative from the Copyright Office and asked why the Office chose to have confidential meetings.  He did a fine job of talking to me for a good 10 minutes without answering my question.  I did glean that the Copyright Office was ready to move forward.  They want to wrap up this issue.  Now is not the time to solicit comments that would be publicly posted from a bunch of Internet whackos who don’t know what they’re talking about.  It will only lead to more confusion and time wasted. Let’s not wrangle with another SOPA. They know what they are doing.

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Carrie Russell

Carrie Russell is the director of the Program on Public Access to Information in the Washington Office. Her portfolio includes copyright, international copyright, accessibility, e-books, and other public policy issues. She has an MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and an MA in media arts from the University of Arizona.


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