Copyright Office To Revise Section 108 & The Library Exception?

Librarians were surprised to hear at the ALA Annual conference that the U.S. Copyright Office planned to hold closed meetings to discuss revision of Section 108, the “library exception.” The process was announced in the Federal Register on June 2. Interested parties were asked to schedule a meeting with the Copyright Office, located in Washington, DC. (Soon after the announcement the Copyright Office said that phone conversations could also be scheduled). There will be no public record of who attends the meetings or what is discussed.

Although, the Copyright Office has been upfront about the changes. They believe that Section 108 needs to be updated to better reflect the digital environment. Indeed, they have said that Section 108 needs to be re-written altogether. They have already drafted Section 108 legislation that librarians haven’t seen.

According to The Internet Archive Blog, the Library Copyright Alliance (which represents the American Library Association and the Association of Research Libraries) has said it does not want changes, the Society of American Archivists has said it does not want changes. The Internet Archive does not want changes, DPLA does not want changes. 

This recent move, which has its genesis in an outdated set of proposals from 2008, is just another in series of out of touch ideas coming from the Copyright Office. We’ve seen them propose “notice and staydown” filtering of the Internet and disastrous “extended collective licensing” for digitization projects. Now the Copyright Office wants to completely overhaul Section 108 of the Copyright Act, the “library exceptions,” in ways that could break the Wayback Machine and repeal fair use for libraries.

After discussing this issue with a well-respected colleague, I have decided that we should not rest on a few court wins in favor of fair use for libraries to hold the day. Section 108 should be rewritten to truly reflect the digital revolution with a keen eye on a library's role in that revolution. The main issue is with the lack of transparency and very little librarian input.

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