Washington eBulletin – June 2020

Advocating for the Legal Information Industry during COVID-19

AALL’s most recent legislative priorities have centered on advocating for the immediate needs of the legal information industry during this pandemic.

The four federal relief and stimulus packages passed by Congress since March have included several benefits for the legal information industry, such as opportunities for law libraries to apply for federal grants and loans to address their immediate needs because of COVID-19. These include the Small Business Administration’s emergency loan programs to help small businesses– including solo and small law firms, nonprofits, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals–and new grants for libraries available through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Most recently, Congress passed the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Flexibility Act of 2020 (H.R. 7010) to relax certain requirements of the PPP loan program, including extending the covered period to 24 weeks or December 31, 2020, whichever comes first.  

In addition to advocating for greater fiscal relief for the legal information industry, AALL’s legislative priorities include the following information policy issues:

A BALANCE IN COPYRIGHT LAWS THAT PROTECTS THE INTERESTS OF LAW LIBRARIES

AALL is advocating for the need of balanced copyright laws and policies that allow law libraries to access and preserve information, and to make information available to users. This balance is more important than ever as legal research, online instruction, and patron services have moved into a more virtual environment because of COVID-19.

AALL is carefully monitoring the Senate Judiciary Committee’s series of hearings about the effectiveness of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which was enacted in 1998 to address the increasingly digital nature of copyrighted works. Earlier this month, AALL supported the testimony of AALL member David Hansen, associate university librarian for research, collections, and scholarly communications and lead copyright and information policy officer at Duke University, who described the impact of the DMCA’s notice-and-takedown system on libraries before the Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property.

For more information about the benefits of the DMCA for law libraries, please see AALL’s issue brief about the exemptions in the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA.

GREATER ACCESS TO GOVERNMENT INFORMATION AND A MORE OPEN GOVERNMENT

AALL is advocating for the ongoing fiscal needs of the federal agencies that support access to and preservation of official, authentic government information. In March, AALL President Michelle Cosby testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch about the importance of funding for the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) and the Library of Congress. AALL also submitted statements to the Senate Appropriations Committee in support of the funding needs of the GPO, the Library of Congress, and the National Archives and Records Administration, describing how the workload for these agencies has increased because of COVID-19.Congress’ consideration of appropriations bills for the federal government’s fiscal year 2021 is expected to resume this summer. Fiscal year 2021 begins October 1, 2020.

In addition, AALL continues to advocate for modernization of the federal electronic rulemaking system, including Regulations.gov. In April, AALL President Cosby participated in the General Services Administration’s (GSA) virtual public meeting on Improving Public Access to Regulatory Data, during which she offered suggestions to improve Regulations.gov to support the legal information profession. The event was part of GSA’s efforts to modernize electronic rulemaking. AALL also submitted written comments to supplement President Cosby’s remarks.

AALL continues to advocate for net neutrality, which promotes equitable access to online legal information and access to justice. We are also monitoring the response to President Donald Trump’s new Executive Order 13925 on Preventing Online Censorship, signed on May 28, which raises free speech issues for online platforms and users under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act by increasing the government’s power to regulate online platforms, including social media websites and search engines.

PROTECTION OF PRIVACY FOR LIBRARY USERS

AALL is tracking the reauthorization of key parts of the federal surveillance program known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) under which the federal government can compel phone companies and internet service providers-including libraries-to turn over data that is relevant to an investigation. After the Senate passed the previously House-passed FISA bill and amendments (H.R. 6172) in May, the House had planned another vote to consider a bipartisan amendment to restrict the collection of internet search history. However, after a veto threat from President Trump and objections from the U.S. Department of Justice, House leadership pulled the bill and instead sent it to conference with the Senate to negotiate an agreement. Those negotiations are ongoing.

Roundup and Review  Save the Date: AALL Virtual Legislative Advocacy Training 

The rescheduled annual AALL Legislative Advocacy Training 2020 will take place virtually on Tuesday, September 22, 2020 at 11 a.m. (CDT). The training is free for AALL members; registration will open soon.

Becoming an effective advocate who can clearly articulate the needs of law libraries and the legal information industry is especially important during these uncertain times. This training will teach you the skills you need to establish yourself as a trusted voice in your community, promote equal access to justice, and contribute meaningful solutions to today’s information policy issues.