Washington Brief - April 2003

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By Mary Alice Baish

Dateline: February 7, 2003

ABA Resolution on UCITA
At its July 2002 annual meeting, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) approved a series of amendments to UCITA that failed to improve substantively the Act or address our concerns about its impact on libraries and educational institutions. Threatened with a petition signed by some 60 commissioners opposed to UCITA, the NCCUSL leadership decided to give proponents one more year with the caveat that UCITA be enacted in 3-5 states. Thus far, it has been introduced in only one state in 2003-Oklahoma-and our AFFECT coalition has fought successfully against its introduction in a handful of other states and the District of Columbia. AALL members continue to play an active leadership role with our AFFECT partners in those states where UCITA may be considered.

In order to breathe new life into this fatally flawed uniform act by securing the American Bar Association's stamp of approval, NCCUSL proposed a resolution for consideration by members of the House of Delegates during the ABA's February meeting in Seattle. Resolution 113G states that the ABA "Approves the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (2002) promulgated by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws as an appropriate Act for those States desiring to adopt the specific substantive law suggested therein."

News of this resolution propelled AFFECT members to respond quickly and decisively. The Washington Office issued an urgent action alert on January 16th asking the AALL community to contact their state delegation immediately and urge opposition to Resolution 113G. Law librarians heard the call and once again deserve kudos for playing a key role in educating and influencing their delegation. In addition, AALL President Carol Avery Nicholson, who is attending the Midyear conference this week with Executive Director Susan Fox, focused her report to the ABA Council on AALL's strong opposition to UCITA and urged a vote against the resolution.

In the days preceding the conference, proponents and opponents alike lobbied members of the House of Delegates intensely via e-mail. By the time the conference convened this weekend, the Business Law Section, the Torts and Insurance Practices Section, the Intellectual Property Section and the Litigation Section had all voted to postpone indefinitely or reject the resolution. Additionally, seven of the nine members of the ABA's UCITA Working Group informed the House of Delegates that they continue to have serious concerns with UCITA and Michael Traynor, current president of the American Law Institute, sent a letter to the delegates indicating his decision to vote against the resolution. It is difficult to imagine how UCITA's proponents could gather sufficient momentum to push UCITA in any states this year if the ABA does not endorse the resolution. Note: Recognizing that the resolution faced overwhelming opposition by ABA members, NCCUSL withdrew the resolution on February 10, 2003. Nonetheless, they have announced plans to continue efforts to get UCITA enacted in a handful of states this year.

New Senate Resolution on CRS Reports
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) intend to introduce a resolution next week to provide public access to reports and products of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) through a centralized electronic service and to make more Senate committee resources available through the Internet. During the last Congress, CRS issued almost 2700 reports at the request of members of Congress, of which some 750 are available through the website of Rep. Chris Shays (R-CA-4) at http://www.house.gov/shays/resources/leginfo/crs.htm. CRS Reports, Issue Briefs, and Authorization and Appropriation products are a treasure trove of analytical reports that members of Congress use in their decision-making on the most important legislative issues of the day. Created at taxpayer expense, these valuable resources should be available to the public through an easily searchable database. The resolution also directs Senate committees to "provide access via the Internet to publicly-available committee information, documents and proceedings, including bills, reports, and official transcripts of committee meetings that are open to the public."

Cosponsors Still Needed for the DMCRA (H.R. 107)
If we are to have any success in moving forward the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act of 2003 (DMCRA) reintroduced this year by Rep. Rich Boucher (D-VA-9) and Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA-4), we need many more cosponsors. Enactment of the DMCRA is necessary to reaffirm fair use in the networked environment and resolve our concerns regarding hardware and software that would permit significant non-infringing uses. Other DMCRA cosponsors are Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ-1), Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL-6), Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX-6) and Rep. William Janklow (R-SD). Please respond to the AALL Action Alert to urge your representative to support fair use by becoming a cosponsor. You also need to be aware that Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI-1) withdrew his sponsorship in mid-January after heavy lobbying by Jack Valenti of the Motion Pictures Association of America. If your representative is already among the cosponsors, it is extremely important to thank her/him for supporting the DMCRA to ensure that all the cosponsors remain steadfast against pressures by the content community to withdraw their support.

Privacy Issues for the 108th Congress
There has been much talk in Washington lately, particularly among members of Congress and their staff, that the Administration would seek additional surveillance authorities beyond those provided for in the USA PATRIOT Act. The Center for Public Integrity recently obtained a January 9th draft of the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 that would expand domestic intelligence gathering, surveillance and law enforcement powers while decreasing judicial review and limiting access to information held by the government. Other privacy-related issues that the Washington Office and Government Relations Committee are closely monitoring are the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program at the Department of Defense, headed by retired Admiral John Poindexter, and potential data-mining activities by the new Department of Homeland Security. Congress is very concerned about the lack of congressional oversight over these operations and the potential infringement of civil liberties.

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

 


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