ARCHIVED: Comments on the Second Draft Consolidated Texts of the Free Trade Area of the Americas Agreement

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January 31, 2003

The American Library Association, Association of Research Libraries, American Association of Law Libraries, Medical Library Association, and Special Libraries Association jointly submit these comments in response to the notice and request for public comments on the second draft consolidated texts of the Free Trade Area of the Americas Agreement (FTAA), published by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) in the Federal Register on December 27, 2002 (67 Fed. Reg. 79,232). These comments address, in particular, the FTAA chapters on intellectual property rights and services.

The American Library Association (ALA), the oldest and largest library association in the world, is a nonprofit organization of over 64,000 librarians, library trustees, and other friends of libraries dedicated to the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 124 research libraries in North America. ARL programs and services promote equitable access to and effective use of recorded knowledge in support of teaching, research, scholarship and community service.

The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) is a nonprofit educational organization with 5,000 members dedicated to providing leadership and advocacy in the field of legal information and information policy.

The Medical Library Association (MLA) is a nonprofit, educational organization of more than 1,100 institutions and 3,800 individual members in the health sciences information field.

The Special Libraries Association (SLA) is an international professional association serving more than 14,000 members of the information profession, including special librarians, information managers, brokers, and consultants.

The ALA, ARL, AALL, MLA and SLA (collectively, "Library Associations") seek to ensure that the FTAA will not interfere with the ability of libraries to support education and research by providing unrestricted access to information in any form and by whatever means technology may allow in coming years.

Specifically, with respect to intellectual property rights protections, the FTAA must not impair the ability of the United States government to enable libraries to preserve intellectual works, share them with one another, and provide public access to them including through lending and the Internet. Further, the United States must continue to have the flexibility to enable libraries to keep pace with developments in information technology. With respect to services disciplines, the FTAA must allow local, state and federal government support for nonprofit and public libraries to continue through subsidies and other forms of public assistance, and for this support to evolve as well in light of such technological developments.


  1. The Critical Role of America's Libraries

    America's libraries provide extraordinarily valuable services, essential to our nation's basic social goals and to the proper functioning of our democratic and open governmental system. Through our libraries we ensure all Americans access to the myriad sources and types of information that convey our collective knowledge, values and diversity of views.

    Our libraries help educate our children and our work force. Libraries help us maintain a well-informed citizenry able to perform effectively its responsibilities as an electorate. They help us meet life's challenges at work, in our families, as entrepreneurs and as business people. They support teaching, research and scholarship, the operation of our legal system, the provision of medical care, and the general, efficient functioning of our economy. They help us fully realize our potential as human beings.

    Today, there are over 115,000 libraries nation-wide serving the American public. Americans on average borrow more than six books per year. Americans go to school, public and academic libraries more than twice as often as they go to the movies. Reference librarians answer more than 7 million questions each week. As technology has changed, so have the services of libraries. Today, public libraries are the number one point of online access for people without Internet access at home, school or work.

    For a society and economy increasingly and extraordinarily reliant upon efficient and broad access to information, libraries play a crucial role. Not only do libraries assemble and organize information for ready access, they often provide the only practical access to the vast majority of books and to other information sources that are no longer available for sale.

    Each year, federal, state and local governments reaffirm through appropriations their appreciation and support for the role of America's nonprofit and public libraries, as do millions of American citizens through charitable donations.


  2. The Need to Protect the Ability of Libraries to Provide Core Library Services

    The principal concern of the Library Associations is to ensure the continuing ability of America's libraries to provide the "core" library services they currently offer to our nation. The basic mission of libraries is to provide unrestricted access to information resources. The core services libraries provide in pursuing this mission are:


    • Collection, cataloging (whether manually or computer-aided) and storage of information sources, including books, maps, periodicals, films, records, tapes, compact disks, digital video disks, electronic books, and such other information sources as may become available;


    • Archiving, preserving and providing long-term access to information, including the use of current and future technologies to reformat information to facilitate storage and retrieval;


    • Providing access to information through lending and inter-library loans as well as through reading, listening and viewing rooms equipped with whatever technology may be needed to access the information from the information source; and


    • Information retrieval services, whether with the assistance of professional librarians, through Internet access to databases, or by such other means as may become available.


    In providing these services, our nation's libraries bestow an extraordinary and cost-effective social good. Yet, maintaining our libraries necessitates a substantial investment of societal resources. Physical infrastructure must be maintained and updated to accommodate new information technologies. Obsolete technologies must be replaced. Collections must be preserved and augmented. Each year, America's libraries expend hundreds of millions of dollars in fees for databases and electronic library materials alone.

    To meet our nation's needs, libraries depend on the rights they enjoy under United States law to access, preserve and share information, and on the financial and other forms of government support they receive.


  3. The FTAA Must Permit the United States to Protect the Right of Libraries to Access, Preserve and Provide Public Access to Information

    Through copyright law, the United States protects the interests of authors and creators and of society as a whole in intellectual works. United States copyright law in its origins and as it has evolved has always sought to balance these interests "to promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts" as the Constitution provides. Authors and creators receive certain monopoly rights (which they can transfer to publishers) to provide an adequate reward for their efforts and, thereby, stimulate the creation of intellectual works. These monopoly rights are circumscribed in various ways, however, to ensure society can fully realize the benefits of these works.

    Various of the limitations on copyright established under United States law enable libraries to provide their core services. Explicit limitations authorize libraries to preserve and distribute intellectual works and to lend them to other libraries. In addition to updating these preservation, distribution and sharing rights to take into account more recent technological needs and resources, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 limited the liability to which online service providers might be exposed due to online copyright infringement. These liability limitations offer protection to the thousands of libraries that provide their patrons access to the Internet.

    The more broadly stated "Fair Use" doctrine protects libraries and their patrons from liability for copyright infringement when reproducing intellectual works to further purposes such as scholarship, research, teaching, news reporting and criticism. In addition, the Fair Use doctrine (codified in the United States Copyright Act) serves an important "gap-filler" function. For example, as new technologies give rise to new rights and protections for intellectual works, corresponding expansion of Fair Use rights for the public can provide a means to maintain an appropriate balance.

    It is essential to the societal function of libraries that the United States has the ability to use its copyright law to maintain this balancing of private and public rights. The Library Associations call upon USTR to ensure that the intellectual property chapter of the FTAA does not restrain Congress or the courts from giving full force to the rights of the public, even when asserted against the intellectual property owner, including through application of the Fair Use and other doctrines.

    The Library Associations look forward to working closely with USTR as the FTAA negotiations advance, to ensure the favorable management of specific issues of critical importance to libraries. Such critical issues include both preventing overly broad protection for databases and ensuring the ability to circumvent technological measures for lawful purposes. Whether and precisely how such issues may be addressed could have profound consequences for America's libraries.


  4. The FTAA Must Permit Local, State and Federal Government Support for Publicly Supported Libraries

    Currently, American publicly supported (nonprofit and public) libraries rely upon government assistance of various kinds to support their operations. Local and state governments provide much of this support in such forms as subsidized or free use of building space, funding of operations, and tax exemptions. Federal support also plays an important role. This support includes funding from the Department of Education, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and other agencies, tax exemption, nonprofit status to receive tax-exempt contributions, special postage rates, and subsidized access to modern telecommunications and information services, including Internet services, under the Universal Service Support Mechanism.

    The government support that these libraries receive is essential to their ability to provide their core services. The forms of support have changed over time in light of technological and other developments relating to these core services, and will likely continue to evolve in tandem with future developments. Local, state and federal governmental bodies must continue to have the ability to provide support to enable these libraries to offer their core services to the public without charge.


      The Library Associations call upon the USTR to ensure that governmental support for core library services does not become subject to disciplines under the services chapter of the FTAA. This will require a firm understanding of the core services provided by publicly supported libraries and the interrelationships between these services and other services that may be addressed in the services chapter. The Library Associations wish to work closely with USTR on these issues as the negotiations progress, to inform its evaluation and interpretation of potential text for the chapter and its assessment of commitments the United States might offer to make under it.


      ALA, ARL, AALL, MLA and SLA call upon USTR to ensure the FTAA does not undermine the existing ability of libraries to preserve, share and provide public access to intellectual works; interfere with government support for publicly supported libraries; or impede the evolution of library services and public support as technology advances. We respectfully request that USTR keep the library community informed of relevant developments and seek our input as appropriate to ensure that negotiators are fully informed of our needs and any potential risks posed by the FTAA. We appreciate the opportunity to provide these comments and look forward to working with USTR as negotiations proceed for the FTAA and for other bilateral, regional and multilateral agreements relating to intellectual property rights and services.