ARCHIVED: Legislative and Regulatory Update - December 1996

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December 1996

Mary Alice Baish
Assistant Washington Affairs Representative
Georgetown University Law Library
111 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001
202/662-9200 *FAX:202/662-9202
Internet: baish@law.georgetown.edu

Election results are in. President Clinton has won four more years in the White House and the Republicans have retained control of the Congress. Thus the themes of the 104th Congress effecting federal information policy--downsizing, privatizing, and reducing agency budgets while moving increasingly towards more electronic dissemination--will reemerge during the 105th Congress. The election hiatus has proven to be a busy time for the Washington Affairs Office. What will likely turn out to be the two most critical issues ahead of us next year continue to unfold: first, the international efforts to develop a whole new approach to the protection of databases outside of copyright law; and second, the long-awaited revisions to Title 44 and the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) that will propel us towards a fuller cybergovernment.

Database Protection

The Executive Board unanimously passed a Resolution on the Sui Generis Protection of Databases, jointly drafted by the Copyright Committee and the Government Relations Committee, at its November meeting in Chicago. The resolution opposes provisions of H.R. 3531, the Database Investment and Intellectual Property Antipiracy Act of 1996 (see Washington Brief, October 1996) that mirror a European Union Directive passed last year. The World Intellectual Property Organization (W.I.P.O.) is meeting in Geneva in December to discuss a new database treaty containing provisions similar to the now defunct bill. The Administration is supporting these efforts even though no public hearings were ever held on H.R. 3531. The resolution recently adopted by the Board opposes a database protection treaty or future legislation, and addresses the following four key points:  

  1. that it would overrule Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991), which held that originality is a bedrock requirement for copyright protection, and that mere investment of resources or effort is not sufficient;  
  2. that it would dramatically expand the scope of protection over factual data and other non-copyrightable information, providing them greater protection than traditionally has been contemplated by Congress or the courts;  
  3. that the protection term of 25 years, renewable each time a significant change, addition or deletion is made to the database, would provide protection that could last in perpetuity;  
  4. that government information created outside of an agency would be protected, increasing the potential for monopoly over the very kinds of public data on which law librarians, attorneys, government officials and the general public regularly rely.

The Government Relations Committee is very concerned that this provision would remove from the public domain government information that agencies contract out (an increasingly popular practice in the face of severe budget reductions), even when the contents have not been substantially changed or modified by the database publisher. Basic scientific data, such as weather information created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, could be removed from the public domain. Bob Oakley will be meeting with W.I.P.O. officials next week at the Patent and Trademark Office to discuss the treaty, and we will be submitting formal comments by the November 22nd deadline.

Revisions to Title 44

Most of the discussion held during the October meeting of the Depository Library Council (DLC) in Salt Lake City focused on various proposals to revise Title 44, including H.R. 4280 (briefly summarized in last month's column) and the proposed changes to Chapter 19 that evolved out of last year's study by the Government Printing Office (GPO). Many law librarians from the Plains, Mountain and Western states were in attendance, but others came from as far away as New York to attend their first DLC meeting. It turned out to be a very productive conference, particularly because Kennie Gill, Democratic Staff Director and Chief Counsel of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, was present for many of the sessions. Ms. Gill worked extensively in preparing last summer's Senate hearings on "Public Access in the 21st Century," and she will be leading efforts to draft the Senate bill revising GPO and the FDLP. We are working with the other library associations on two fronts: a joint letter responding to H.R. 4280, and draft legislative language to revise Title 44 from the depository library perspective. We expect that H.R. 4280 will be reintroduced possibly in early January, with no hearings planned, and that the Senate bill will be introduced in February.

DLC conference attendees packed the room in which GPO staff demonstrated the latest enhancements to GPO ACCESS, including the Code of Federal Regulations (http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr). Title 20 (Parts 400-499), all of Title 21, and Title 40 (Parts 87-135) are already online and searchable by keyword. Additional CFR titles will be phased in gradually over the course of the next year. As always, GPO welcomes comments and in this case is particularly interested in relying on the expertise of the law library community for feedback and suggestions. Please take a look at this new GPO ACCESS service, and share your comments or ideas for future enhancements with GRC Chair Susan Tulis, Government Documents SIS Chair David Gay, or myself as we will be coordinating AALL comments to GPO. Thanks!

Association of Public Data Users Annual Conference

I recently attended the 21st Annual Conference of the Association of Public Data Users (APDU) here in Washington. APDU members use, produce and disseminate government statistical data, and many of them represent federal agencies and state data centers. At a time when agency budgets are being drastically reduced and the move is towards more electronic data, it was enlightening to hear the agency perspective on many of our key concerns: how to make data more accessible to the public electronically?; who is responsible for permanent access and preservation?; and how will libraries and state data centers continue to provide quality service to the full range of electronic statistical information?

One theme frequently reiterated was that the user community, including librarians, must become more vocal in lobbying Congress for adequate agency budgets to support the collection and creation of data. Dr. Martha Farnsworth Riche, Director of the U.S. Bureau of the Census (and coincidentally, the proud daughter of a law librarian), spoke of the budget battles for funding for the 2000 Decennial Census. She also described the agency's newest prototype system, the Data Access and Dissemination System (DADS) that will be a faster, more flexible and cost-efficient one-stop-shopping center for all Census Bureau data. While DADS is the wave of the future, the Census Bureau is being forced to minimize print reports and reduce publications that users rely on for data analysis. One positive aspect of the growth of electronic government information is the ability of law library users to have easy access to nontraditional sources outside of primary legal materials, including statistical data for empirical research. The Government Documents SIS, recognizing the need to explore this topic for our membership, has planned a program on understanding and using federal statistics for our annual meeting in Baltimore.

1996, American Association of Law Libraries