Copyright Hearings in Congress January 2014

You may have heard that Congress is holding copyright hearings.  This is all part of a planned “comprehensive” review of copyright, likely to take place over several years, with the intent of eventually passing “the Next Great Copyright Act”.  

So far all the hearings are happening in the House of Representatives, and none scheduled in the Senate.  Specifically, the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property & the Internet, (see Wikipedia) has held a few hearings, and has scheduled more.  

This week’s hearing is on fair use, obviously of key interest to libraries and educators.  Upcoming hearings will be on first sale (digital and print); Section 108 & orphan works; and the role of the Copyright Office.  I think you can see that this is a very important set of hearings for libraries!  So we’re very fortunate that ARL and ALA’s Washington Office, along with other allies (Public Knowledge, the PIJIP program, the Samuelson Clinic), are on top of the issue, working to develop proposed witnesses, prepping testimony, keeping us all up to date, and sending in written testimony from the “Library Copyright Alliance” in addition to witness testimony. 

The way the hearing itself works is that a general profile of witnesses is asked for (“Give me someone from libraries, someone from international, and someone from music.”), and various organizations submit proposed lists of witnesses.  Committee members (or their aides) select specific witnesses, who then submit a prepared statement for their testimony.  Typically at the hearing the witnesses read their statements, and then are questioned.  

For this week’s hearing on fair use, we have two strong allies of fair use, and three voices that are generally much more mixed or actively not allies of fair use. 

  • Peter Jaszi (American University) is going to be our greatest ally.  I’m linking to his testimony in particular below and recommend you read it.
  • June Besek (Columbia) is another copyright scholar, and although expert in Section 108, is more of an ally to the rightsholder industries. Besek’s written testimony was critical of new directions in fair use that have been important for libraries, as for example in the indexing cases (Google Books, HathiTrust).
  • Naomi Novik is a SF writer and fanfic writer, and will be testifying on behalf of the Organization for Transformative Works — basically, supporting transformativeness.  
  • David Lowery is a musician who has been vocal in criticizing Internet-based businesses and in calling for stronger enforcement of copyright.  
  • Kurt Wimmer is a representative of the newspaper industry, which has been working to prevent Google from harvesting snippets of news. While Wimmer’s written testimony raised this issue, it also recognized that the news industry also relies on fair use. 

The library associations ARL, ALA, and ACRL have also submitted a joint statement as the “Library Copyright Alliance”, which is linked below. I recommend it! It’s one of the few organizations right now representing educational perspectives in copyright.

Testimony and statements of particular interest

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