Copyright and Intellectual Property

[last update 30 September 2003]


Copyright and related intellectual property laws have important effects on the nature and extent of information services libraries provide to their users.  Intellectual property laws are currently undergoing major changes in response to the growth in the use of digital formats for works.  ALA's principal concern is to assure that these changes do not harm, but rather enhance, the ability of libraries to serve the needs of people to access, use, and preserve digital information.
Our concern in heightened because of emerging technology applied to copyrighted works that is intended to prohibit access, use and preservation of digital information.

KEY ACTION/PRIORITY AREAS:  Equity of Access, Legislation/Funding, Library Services/Development/Technology
RELATED ISSUES:  Digital Divide, Digital Content Issues, Technology & Libraries


ALAction 2005: By 2005, ALA will be recognized as the leading voice for equitable access to knowledge and information resources in all formats for all people.
Policy 1.3:  ALA will promote efforts to ensure that every individual has access to needed information at the time needed and in a format the individual can utilize, through provision of library and information services.


  • Digital Millennium Copyright Act:  This law, passed in 1998, is currently going through a number of tests and interpretations in the courts.  When appropriate points of law are at issue, ALA may choose to participate in cases through Amicus briefs.
  • Digital Rights Management Technology: Industry continues to advance technologies that, on one level, are intended to enforce copyrights, but may also be used to restrict people's abilities to use information in non-infringing ways.  ALA is addressing DRM-related issues in Congress, in the courts (through Amicus briefs) and in standard-setting bodies.


  • ALA Washington Office/Committee on Legislation
  • ALA Office for Information Technology Policy/OITP Advisory Committee
  • ALA Divisions


  • Shared Legal Capability - a coalition of five major library associations
  • Digital Future Coalition - a broad-based group of public interest and industrial partners with shared concerns about preserving fair use protections for copyrighted works
  • AFFECT - A coalition of 60 organizations that is actively engaged in fighting the adoption by state legislatures of the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA)


  • 1945 --  The ALA Washington Office was established.
  • 1976 - ALA participated in negotiations leading to passage of the 1976 Copyright Act, a major revision of the law codifying significant provisions for libraries.
  • 1977 - The ALA Office for Research (with partial support from the Council on Library Resources and BRS) conducted a study on the extent and effect of fees for library services ( Financing Online Search Services in Publicly-Supported Libraries).
  • 1977 - ALA Council affirmed the support for free access in opposition to "fee-for-service."
  • 1978 - A special task force appointed by ALA President Eric Moon presented "Toward a Conceptual Foundation for a National Information Policy" for discussion: "...All information must be available to all people in all formats purveyed through all communication channels and delivered at all levels of comprehension.  If any one of these five qualities is compromised, the whole is enervated, and the national enterprise as a consequence suffers."
  • 1989 - A pre-WHCLIS "position paper" in American Libraries outlined the rationale for ALA's engagement in national policy advocacy: "Today's public libraries and increasingly those of the future must be enabled to function within a nationwide and even global information infrastructure. In a world increasingly dependent upon knowledge ad the ability to acquire it, the problems of those with limited access to information will only be exacerbated."
  • 1991 - ALA Council adopted "Library Services to the Poor": "... It is crucial that libraries recognize their role in enabling poor people to participate fully in a democratic society, by utilizing a wide variety of available resources and strategies."
  • 1991 - The Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) published Citizen Rights and Access to Electronic Information.
  • 1993 - ALA and LITA, in collaboration with CLR and support from the National Science Foundation, convened an invitational Forum for National Library Associations: "Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Policy Issues."
  • 1995 - As part of the implementation of ALA Goal 2000, the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy was established and charged to conduct research & analysis, focusing on the implications of information technology and information policies on libraries and their users, to educate ALA members about the impact of information policies on libraries & their users, to advocate for ALA's information policy in non-legislative arenas, and to engage in "strategic outlook to anticipate technological change, particularly as it presents policy challenges to libraries and library users."
  • 1995 - ALA helped found the Digital Future Coalition to respond to the emerging "digital agenda" of the recording, motion picture and publishing industries.
  • 1998 - ALA participated as a non-governmental organization in negotiations on the World Intellectual Property Organization copyright treaties leading to passage of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
  • 1998 - ALA negotiated for more favorable provisions in the 1998 DMCA amendments to the copyright act.
  • 1999 - ALA launched a copyright education program.  By summer, 2003, it reached over 20,000 with tutorials, workshops and other presentations.
  • 2000 - ALA helped found a diverse coalition to fight adoption of UCITA in the states.
  • 2002 - ALA received a $630,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation for copyright education.
  • 2002 - ALA participated in discussions leading to passage of the Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act of 2002, updating copyright law for digital distance education. Continuing education materials and guidance for members, including a white paper on technological protections measures, were produced.
  • 2003 - The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, the drafters of UCITA, announced that it was discharging the UCITA Standby Drafting Committee and would stop spending any further resources in promoting the Act.  AFFECT, the anti-UCITA coalition that ALA helped to found and to staff in large part, was given substantial credit for bringing about this development.


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