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Google Policy Fellow: my OITP summer

guest post by Nick Gross, OITP’s 2016 Google Policy Fellow

This summer I worked as a Google Policy Fellow at the American Library Association’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) in Washington, D.C. The Google Policy fellowship gives undergraduate, graduate, and law students the opportunity to spend the summer working at public interest groups engaged in Internet and technology policy issues.

Google Policy Fellowships give undergraduate, graduate, and law students the opportunity to spend the summer working at public interest groups engaged in Internet and tech policy issues

As a fellow, my primary role at OITP was to prepare tech policy memos to submit to the incoming presidential administration. The goal is to inform policymakers about ALA’s public policy concerns, including why, and to what extent, ALA has an interest in specific tech issues and what the next policies should look like. With balanced, future-looking information and tech policies, libraries can continue to enable Education, Employment, Entrepreneurship, Empowerment, and Engagement for their patrons— The E’s of Libraries. To that end, I drafted a brief on telecommunications issues and one on copyright issues.

The telecommunications brief addresses the importance of broadband Internet to libraries. In particular, a robust broadband infrastructure ensures that libraries can continue to provide their communities with equitable access to information and telecommunications services, as well as serve residents with digital services and content via “virtual branches.” Through the Federal Communications Commission’s Universal Service Fund (USF), which includes the E-Rate program, the Lifeline program, and the Connect America Fund, libraries and underserved or unserved communities are better able to enjoy access to affordable high-capacity broadband. And greater broadband competition and local choice increase broadband deployment, affordability, and adoption for libraries and their communities, while opening up more unlicensed spectrum for Wi-Fi expands broadband capacity so libraries can better serve their communities. Moreover, libraries sometimes provide the only Internet access points for some communities and they play an important role in digital inclusion efforts. Finally, because libraries use the Internet to research, educate, and create and disseminate content, as well as provide no-fee public access to it, they highly value the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order which helps guarantee intellectual freedom and free expression, thereby promoting innovation and the creation and exchange of ideas and content.

As copyright lies at the core of library operations, OITP advocates for law that fulfills the constitutional purpose of copyright—namely, a utilitarian system that grants “limited” copyright protection in order to “promote the progress of science and useful arts.” The copyright brief calls for a balanced copyright system in the digital age that realizes democratic values and serves the public interest. The first sale doctrine enables libraries to lend books and other materials. The fair use doctrine is critical to libraries’ missions, as it enables the “free flow of information,” fostering freedom of inquiry and expression; for instance, it enables libraries to use so-called “orphan works” without fear of infringement liability. Moreover, libraries are at the forefront of archiving and preservation, using copyright law’s exceptions to make reproductions and replacements of works that have little to no commercial market or that represent culturally valuable content in the public domain. Libraries also enjoy protections against liability under the Section 512 Safe Harbors in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

My brief on copyright issues also highlights specific challenges that threaten libraries’ mission to provide the public with access to knowledge and upset the careful balance between copyright holders and users. For instance, e-licensing and digital rights management (DRM) under section 1201 of the DMCA, as well as the section 1201 rulemaking process, limit libraries’ ability to take full advantage of copyright exceptions, from fair use to first sale to preservation and archiving. ALA also advocates for the ratification and implementation of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s “Marrakesh Treaty” to facilitate access to published works for persons who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise print disabled.

Safe_harbor_sunset_sceneIn addition to my policy work, Google’s bi-weekly meetings at its D.C. headquarters shed light on the public policy process. At each event, Google assembled a panel of experts composed of its own policy-oriented employees and other experts from public interest groups in D.C. Topics ranged from copyright law to broadband deployment and adoption to Net Neutrality. During the meetings, I also enjoyed the opportunity to meet the other Google fellows and learn about their work.

My experience as a Google Policy Fellow at OITP taught me a great deal about how public interest groups operate and advocate effectively. For instance, I learned how public interest groups collaborate together and form partnerships to effect policy change. Indeed, ALA works, or has worked, with groups like the Center for Democracy & Technology to advocate for Net Neutrality, while advancing public access to information as a member of the Re:Create Coalition and the Library Copyright Alliance. As a founding member of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition and WifiForward, ALA promotes Internet policies, such as the modernization of the USF. Not only did I gain a deeper insight into telecommunications law and copyright law, I also developed an appreciation as to how such laws can profoundly impact the public interest. I’d highly recommend the Google Policy Fellowship to any student interested in learning more about D.C.’s policymaking in the tech ecosystem.

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Shawnda Hines

Shawnda Hines is an assistant director of Communications at ALA's Washington Office. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Evangel University in Missouri. Before joining the ALA in 2016, Shawnda worked as press secretary and local media organizer for the national advocacy group Bread for the World.

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