AALL's 2001 Legislative Agenda - February 2001

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Dateline: December 28, 2000

AALL's 2001 Legislative Agenda

Included among our legislative priorities for the coming year are several important issues that will resurface as early as January: legislation to protect databases; digital copyright issues in the wake of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act; and the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act. In addition, we're certain to face another battle for adequate FY 2002 funding for the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) and Congress may hold hearings on a sweeping reorganization plan, developed by the U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science, for a new federal "Public Information Resource Agency". With your continued support for our legislative efforts through our strong grassroots program, together we can look forward to another challenging year in which the following will be priorities of our legislative agenda.

1. Renewed Battle Over Database Legislation.

While House term limit rules require Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-IL) to step down, it is certain that committee members Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) will once again attempt to garner support for legislation to protect databases outside of federal copyright law. Coble in fact threw out the gauntlet in a statement published in the Congressional Record of October 12th that "this will now be the third Congress in which legislation protecting databases has failed to become law. Over the past years, the opponents of such legislation have done all they can to prevent legislation from moving forward and maintain the status quo so they may pirate the work of others due to the current gap in protection."

Thwarting passage of the Coble bill during the 106th Congress was H.R. 1858, the Consumer and Investor Access to Information Act approved by the House Commerce Committee under the leadership of newly-retired Chairman Thomas Bliley (R-VA). AALL, our sister library associations and the Digital Future Coalition (DFC) strongly endorsed H.R. 1858, which included AALL's language excluding primary legal material from any new database protection scheme. This balanced legislation has been endorsed as well by many strong voices in the high-tech industry who believe the Coble bill would hinder the growth of electronic commerce. Beginning early next year, we will be facing another jurisdictional battle over database legislation between these two committees that will require a strong AALL grassroots response.

2. Library Strategy to Restore Balance in the Copyright Act, post DMCA.

The adverse ruling on anticircumvention by Librarian of Congress James Billington in late October (reported here in the December issue) has prompted the Shared Legal Capability (AALL, ALA, ARL, MLA and SLA) to assess several options to deal with the negative impact on library services of that rulemaking and other provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The Copyright Office held a hearing on November 29, 2000 regarding the effect of the DMCA prohibitions on the First Sale doctrine. It was apparent from the testimony of witnesses on behalf of the content community that, in their view, the first sale exception does not apply to digital distribution and that they will oppose any legislative effort to update the first sale language of Section 109 of the Copyright Act for the digital age. Other areas within copyright law that we believe should be addressed by Congress in the coming session are distance education, interlibrary loan and the preservation of Internet resources.

3. UCITA on a Fast-track in 2001.

Last year, despite our best efforts, we saw the enactment of the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA) in two states, Maryland (effective date: October 1, 2000) and Virginia (effective date: July 1, 2001). UCITA was also tabled in a handful of other states, including Delaware, D.C., Hawaii, Illinois, and Iowa--where "bombshelter" legislation was adopted to exempt Iowa residents from provisions of UCITA through July 2001. In addition, the New Jersey Law Revision Commission thoroughly studied UCITA during the past year and drafted an amendment that would exclude libraries from this legislation.

4CITE, the broad-based coalition of users and developers of computer information that was initiated by the library community a year ago, has changed its name to AFFECT--Americans For Fair Electronic Commerce Transactions. The new coalition web site is content rich and includes the basics of UCITA, a helpful list of UCITA opponents, sample letters and a state-by-state tracking so that you can monitor activity in your own state (http://www.4cite.org/states.html). We expect to see UCITA introduced in as many as twenty states early in the New Year, and AALL members are already at the forefront in state efforts to oppose UCITA in California, Louisiana, Oregon, New Hampshire, Texas and Washington.

4. NCLIS Draft Report and Legislative Proposal.

The U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science issued its draft Final Report on "A Comprehensive Assessment of Public Information Dissemination" in late November and at the same time released a legislative proposal, the Public Information Resources Reform Act of 2001.

The proposal includes 11 recommendations based on the establishment of a new independent agency in the executive branch, the Public Information Resources Administration (PIRA) that would incorporate the Superintendent of Documents and the Federal Depository Library Program, renaming it the PIRA Program. The Government Printing Office would remain in the legislative branch and would become a new Legislative Information Resources Office and there would be a newly-created Judicial Information Resources Office within the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. For more information on the report and proposal, see http://www.nclis.gov/govt/assess/assess.html.

At a public meeting on December 4, 2000, I submitted formal comments to the Commission, expressing agreement with many of the findings and purposes of the new legislative proposal and affirming the five principles of public access developed during the 1996 GPO Study and incorporated into the Advisory Panel 4 Report on Public-Private Sector Partnerships of which I was a member :

 

  • That the public has a right of access to government information;

     

  • That the government has an obligation to disseminate and provide broad public access to its information;

     

  • That the government has an obligation to guarantee the authenticity and integrity of its information;

     

  • That the government has an obligation to preserve its information; and

     

  • That government information created or compiled by government employees or at government expense should remain in the public domain.

Secondly, I expressed concern that stakeholders, including the library community, had no opportunity to review or comment on the dramatic organizational changes proposed by NCLIS. Further, that in the climate of smaller, more efficient government, it might be very difficult--if not impossible--to get support from the new Administration or Congress for such a heavily bureaucratic new agency. In the meantime, I strongly urged NCLIS to recommend specific and immediate remedies to the NTIS situation that will ensure its future stability and growth.

Lastly, I suggested that a legislative remedy to ensure the permanent public access and preservation of the ever-increasing amounts of valuable government publications that are accessible only through agency web sites should be a priority. We believe that the solution should be a coordinated, collaborative approach involving government entities and library partners across all three branches of government. I once again urged NCLIS to review the statutory language drafted by the library community during the 105th Congress as part of S. 2288. It is a thoughtful, incremental approach to strengthening the FDLP by affirming that electronic government information must be permanently available to the public and by creating a permanent public access council.

Final Thoughts on Our 2001 Legislative Agenda.

These four important policy issues carrying over from last year will keep the Washington Affairs Office, the Government Relations Committee and the Copyright Committee fully occupied next year. In addition, we will be playing an active role in the Reauthorization of the Paperwork Reduction Act and in monitoring the Open Secrets Act, vetoed by President Clinton in November, that would have criminalized leaks of classified information. We are also preparing AALL's formal comments to the Judicial Conference, due January 26th, regarding policies under consideration to address privacy and security concerns related to the electronic availability of court case files. So stay tuned for a busy year ahead in which we will be calling upon you for grassroots support that will be critical to our efforts. If you haven't yet joined the AALL Advocacy Listserv, please subscribe today at aalladvocsubscribe.asp. Thanks!

 

Mary Alice Baish
Associate Washington Affairs Representative
Edward B. WIlliams Law Library
111 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001-1417
202/662-9200 * FAX:202/662-9202
email:baish@law.georgetown.edu