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Thoughts on the US Copyright Office's Notice of Inquiry

Friday, September 2, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: CCUMC Executive Office
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Earlier this summer CCUMC President Pat Poet asked CCUMC members to send her responses to the U.S. Copyright Office’s Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”) which invited interested parties to discuss potential revisions to the library and archives exceptions in 17 USC 108. Although I considered scheduling an interview with the Copyright Office or sending Pat comments that she could relay on to them, I ultimately decided to do neither. I did submit awritten response to the Copyright Office on behalf of another professional organization I belong to, the American Library Association’s Video Round Table, but that’s it.


My reason for not participating in this process more actively was that the lack of transparency and language in the NOI indicating that its intent was to help the Copyright Office “finalize its legislative recommendation” concerning a “re-drafting” of Section 108 (both of which were called out by the Library Copyright Alliance) signaled to me that Copyright Office had already made up its mind what it wanted to do and that an interview would just be a waste of my time and theirs. The Copyright Office’s reply to me, which stated that they were not accepting written comments, assured me that this feeling was correct: if they were not even willing to make a note of the substance of what I wrote or at least explain why they weren’t accepting written comments, why should I believe that they would care about what I told them in person or over the phone? I figured that since they were almost certainly going to present a revised version of Section 108 to Congress anyway, I might as well wait until then to get involved.


Although I still believe that this analysis is more or less correct, my passiveness has nagged at me. The purpose of the CopyrightX course (which I blogged about here) I completed in 2015 was to prepare me to advocate for my community, and even if I didn’t think it would be successful, there’s a good argument that I should have spoken up anyway. This is why I was delighted to read Brandon Butler’s blog post about a letter written by the library deans at the College of William & Mary, Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Virginia, George Mason University, and Virginia Tech to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte urging him to “avoid any contentious and damaging changes to Section 108 and the right of fair use” in his committee’s efforts to reform U.S. copyright law.


As described by Butler, one of the primary functions of this letter was to make sure that Chairman Goodlatte “realizes the controversy and context that surrounds the Office’s proposed changes.” Although my congressman, Representative John Sarbanes, is not a member of the Judiciary Committee, I think it’s important that he, too, understands that there is widespread apprehension about and even opposition to Section 108 reform in the library community that it would have the greatest impact on. For this reason, I am planning on writing him a letter similar to the one written by Deans Cooper, Ulmschneider, Unsworth, Zenelis, and Walters. I will post the letter on this blog along with a template for adapting it in case any readers would like to send a message to their own representative. Stay tuned!

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