June 11, 1999
The Honorable W.J. "Billy" Tauzin
Chairman, Subcommittee on Telecommunications,
Trade and Consumer Protection
House Committee on Commerce
2125 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-6115
BY FAX: 225.1919
Dear Representative Tauzin:
I write to you today, and to the members of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection, on behalf of the American Association of Law Libraries to bring to your attention an issue of utmost importance to our members. The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) was founded in 1906 to promote and enhance the value of law libraries to the legal and public communities, to foster the profession of law librarianship, and to provide leadership in the field of legal information and information policy. Today, with 4,800 members nationwide, the Association represents law librarians and related professionals who are affiliated with a wide range of institutions: law firms; law schools; corporate legal departments; courts; and local, state and federal government agencies.
AALL has long opposed legislative efforts to provide new database protections outside of copyright law for compilations of factual information. We continue to strongly oppose H.R. 354, the Collections of Information Antipiracy Act of 1999, that was recently reported favorably by the House Judiciary Committee. We are pleased that Chairman Tom Bliley of the House Committee on Commerce recently introduced an alternative and more balanced approach, the Consumer and Investor Access to Information Act of 1999, and that your Subcommittee will be holding a hearing on this legislation on Tuesday, June 15, 1999. While we support this new approach, we nonetheless have some concerns with the provisions relating to government information.
The American Association of Law Libraries, recognizing that the availability of legal information to all people is a necessary requirement for a just and democratic society, strongly believes that primary legal information produced at all levels of government must be available to our nation's citizens. We are concerned that the current legislative proposals to protect databases against piracy might present barriers to the public's rights--as both citizens and taxpayers--to have access to primary legal information. We believe that the best means of ensuring that H.R. 1858 has no unintended consequences that would abrogate these rights is to add an amendment to the exclusions on government information that is narrowly crafted to explicitly exempt all primary legal materials. The attached AALL Issue Brief, entitled Equal and Equitable Public Access to the Rule of Law, includes our proposed amendment. It also provides a comprehensive overview of our concerns, including a brief background on legal and government publishing that explains today's situation in which two large legal publishers together have a virtual monopoly on federal and state court opinions, and other primary legal information. Not surprisingly, it is these two legal publishers who are the main forces behind the current legislative efforts to protect databases.
We hope, Mr. Chairman, that you and members of the Subcommittee will consider the addition of our proposed amendment excluding primary legal materials as you consider H.R. 1858 at the hearing on Tuesday. We also request that a copy of our letter and the attached Issue Brief be included in the official record of the hearing. Thank you very much for your consideration in this very important matter, and please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or would like additional information.
Robert L. Oakley
American Association of Law Libraries
Washington Affairs Representative
cc: Members of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications,
Trade and Consumer Protection, House Committee on Commerce