March 12, 1998
Honorable Henry J. Hyde
Chairman, House Judiciary Committee
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515-1306
Dear Chairman Hyde:
On behalf of the American Association of Law Libraries, I am writing to you today in opposition to the "Collections of Information Antipiracy Act" (H.R. 2652), as currently drafted, on which two hearings have been held this year before the House Courts and Intellectual Property Subcommittee. The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) is a nonprofit educational organization headquartered in Chicago with nearly 5,000 members nationwide. Our members respond to the legal and governmental information needs of legislators, judges, and other public officials at all levels of government, corporations and small businesses, law professors and students, attorneys, and members of the general public.
Our position on H.R. 2652 was articulated very well by James Neal who testified on behalf of the five major library associations, including AALL, at the October 23, 1997 Subcommittee hearing. Mr. Neal stated that H.R. 2652, in its current form, would afford dangerously sweeping new legal protection to compilations of facts not sufficiently original to merit copyright protection at the expense of scholarship, research and public access to information.
While AALL recognizes that those who create large databases may have some need for protection for their investments, the proponents of the legislation have not demonstrated any compelling evidence that there is in fact a need to legislate the dramatic expansion of the rights of database compilers that H.R. 2652 proposes. We believe that the information industry is in fact robust, and that adequate forms of protection already exist through copyright, contracts, and emerging technological measures. (In fact, we are worried that without some limits, technology might give database owners a level of control that fundamentally disrupts the policy balance struck by Congress in the Copyright Act.) Many in the commercial sector of the information industry have joined with the library, non-profit and scientific communities in opposing this bill, in part, on the basis that no research has been presented by the content community to demonstrate a need for additional database protections.
If enacted, H.R. 2652 would alter the balance of rights and privileges inherent in copyright law that has to date successfully protected creators while at the same time permitting the use of knowledge for education, research and other scholarly purposes. We believe that narrowing the rights and privileges of the American public for their non-commercial use of electronic information products, without limited privileges such as fair use, will chill scientific research, economic progress, and the free flow of information that has well served the public good of our nation by promoting "the progress of Science and the useful arts."
The AALL Executive Board endorsed a Resolution on the Sui Generis Protection of Databases in November 1996 in response to the proposed W.I.P.O Treaty for the Sui Generis Protection of Databases and H.R. 3531, similar legislation introduced in the House. We opposed that bill's attempt to override Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991) which, as affirmed in our resolution, "held that originality is a bedrock requirement for copyright protection, and that mere investment of resources or effort is not sufficient." We strongly oppose the expansion of the scope of protection over factual data that H.R. 2652 proposes. We agree with the court's decision in Feist that rejected the notion that the "sweat of the brow" of compilers of information does not substitute for the "original authorship" required as a condition of copyrightability.
Further, we are extremely concerned about the bill's provisions that would create potential new protections over government information. AALL has long asserted that government information, created by taxpayer dollars, must remain in the public domain with no copyright or copyright-like restrictions. H.R. 2652, like its predecessor H.R. 3531, would protect sole source providers after the original government information is no longer available. As some agencies, forced by their own budget constraints, are turning more frequently to outside entities to develop their electronic information products, the potential for monopoly over the very kinds of public domain data most needed by the American people increases.
AALL opposes the current version of H.R. 2652 because it broadly expands current intellectual property protections while decreasing the American public's access to information. At a time when the growth of the Internet offers exciting new opportunities to access electronic information for education, research and scholarly endeavors, Congress must be very careful not to undermine the balance that copyright law has very properly maintained. Thank you for your consideration in this matter, and please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
Robert L. Oakley
Washington Affairs Representative
American Association of Law Libraries