ARCHIVED: Library and Archives Associations Support the National Geographic Society In New York Court in Support of Public Access

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Washington, DC, June 28, 2004-Six library and archives associations today filed an amicus curiae brief in Faulkner v. National Geographic Society, a case that has major implications for projects that involve retrospective digitization of print versions of scholarly materials and the public's access to those materials. In the brief, the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), American Library Association (ALA), Association of Research Libraries (ARL), Medical Library Association (MLA), Society of American Archivists (SAA), and Special Libraries Association (SLA) state that "the decision will ... have profound consequences for the library and archival communities and those who use collective works."

At stake in the case is whether publishers of collective works and others who may choose to legitimately digitize them can re-publish those works in a digital format without seeking permission of authors or other contributors. Several freelance photographers, as well as some writers, sued the National Geographic Society (NGS) for copyright infringement because some of their works are included in a CD-ROM produced by the NGS. The CD-ROM contains photo-scanned images of the entire print version of the National Geographic magazine from 1888 to 1996 in a searchable format. A lower court found that the publication on CD-ROM is permissible under the Copyright Act. The library and archives associations are asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to affirm that decision.

The associations filed the amicus brief due to their concern that a reversal of the lower court decision would thwart efforts to digitize selected library collections, thus reducing access to these important resources by the public. The associations support the decision by Judge Kaplan of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that the Copyright Act permits the NGS to reproduce and distribute, through the CD-ROM compilation, the copyrighted materials that appeared in the original issues of the magazine. Judge Kaplan found that as long as digital versions place photographs and articles in the same context as the print original, there is no infringement of copyright. Thus the District Court determined that the fact that articles and photographs appear in a new medium makes no difference to the case.

Faulkner v. National Geographic Society differs considerably from New York Times v. Tasini, in which the Supreme Court affirmed the copyright privileges of freelance writers whose works were originally published in newspapers and periodicals and then licensed by the publishers to commercial electronic databases. The associations believe the Copyright Act permits publishers, libraries, archives, and the public to take advantage of new technologies to preserve and distribute creative works to the public if no changes are made to the original work once republished in a different format.


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. Contact: Robert Oakley (202-662-9160)

The American Library Association (ALA) is a nonprofit educational organization of over 64,000 librarians, library trustees, and other friends of libraries dedicated to improving library services and promoting the public interest in a free and open information society. Contact: Miriam Nisbet (202-628-8410)

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. Contact: Prudence Adler (202-296-2296)

The Medical Library Association (MLA) is a nonprofit, educational organization of more than 900 institutions and 3,800 individual members in the health sciences information field. Contact: Carla Funk (312-419-9094 x 14)

The Society of American Archivists provides services to and represents the professional interests of more than 3,800 individual archivists and institutions as they work to identify, preserve, and ensure access to the nation's historic record. Contact: Nancy Beaumont (312- 922-0140)

The Special Libraries Association ("SLA") is a nonprofit organization for information professionals and their strategic partners, and serves more than 12,000 members in the information profession, including corporate, academic and government information specialists. Contact: Doug Newcomb (703-647-4923)