Copyright is at the core of almost everything that libraries and librarians do. Library workers purchase over $4 billion in copyrighted materials annually, loan copyrighted material to the public as expressly authorized in the Copyright Act, rely on Fair Use and other statutory limitations on the rights of copyright holders to facilitate the broadest possible public access to information, provide materials of every kind in forms accessible to those with special needs; and preserve culturally and commercially valuable information in digital and other formats.
The Digital Age presents new challenges to fundamental copyright doctrines that are legal cornerstones of library services. Libraries are leaders in trying to maintain a balance of power between copyright holders and users, in keeping with the fundamental principles outlined in the Constitution and carefully crafted over the past 200 years. In this role, we closely follow both federal and state legislation and make our voices heard when our issues are moving.
Libraries are perceived as a voice for the public good and our participation is often sought in "friend of the court" briefs in important intellectual property cases. Our involvement extends to the international copyright arena where we also follow the treaties to which the U.S. is a signatory and which could influence the development of copyright changes at home.
Copyright issues are among the most hotly contested issues in the legal and legislative world; billions of dollars are at stake. Legal principles and technological capabilities are constantly challenging each other and every outcome can directly affect the future of libraries.
Everyday copyright law affects the way libraries provide information to their users. The first sale doctrine enables libraries to lend books and other resources. Fair use allows for the use of copyrighted works for purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, scholarship, or research. Libraries are permitted to make reproductions of copyrighted works for preservation and replacement purposes. And under copyright law, libraries can aid in the transformation and reproduction of copyrighted works for users with disabilities. As libraries advocate for user rights and access to information, it's crucial to continue to address the emerging challenges posed at the intersection of technology, society, and law.
Accordingly, ALA has actively advocated and continues to fight in Congress and the courts to strike a balance in copyright law. This balance between incentivizing creativity with exclusive rights and affording all people the ability to access and use copyrighted works is what the Framers contemplated when they included a clause in the Constitution defining the overarching purpose of copyright, namely "to promote progress in science and useful arts." Libraries and information professionals seek to honor and implement the Framers’ vision by actively working for law and policy that will bring the full benefits of the digital age to all people.
ALA urges Members of the 115th Congress to:
- Prioritize and fully fund efforts in FY 2018 to modernize the Copyright Office’s technological infrastructure and maintain the Office within the Library of Congress.
- Support the fastest possible ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty to provide acces¬sible published works to more than 4 million people with visual impartments and other people with print disabilities in the U.S. and rapid adoption of implementing legislation and legislative history as successfully negotiated by all major stakeholders under the auspices of the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees.
- Pass the You Own Devices Act (H.R. 905) to foster the social and commercial evolution of the “Internet of Things” by codifying the right of the owner of a device containing “essential software” intrinsic to its function to transfer both the device and the software.
ALA Key Communications
- Coalition Letter to the House Judiciary Committee about CLASSICS Act music legislation (March 29, 2018)
- Statement of the Library Copyright Alliance on the Copyright Office's Notice of Inquiry Concerning Section 108 of the Copyright Act (June 16, 2016)
- Comments of the Library Copyright Alliance on Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (April 1, 2016)
- Reply Comments of the Library Copyright Alliance on Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (April 1, 2016)
- Reply Comments of the Owners' Rights Initiative on the Role of Copyright Law with Respect to Software-Enabled Consumer Products (March 18, 2016)
- Comments of the Library Copyright Alliance on Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (March 10, 2016)
- ALA joins Statement in Support of Rapid Ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty (February 25, 2016)
- ALA endorses the Brussels Declaration on Trade and the Internet, which calls for greater transparency in trade agreement negotiation (February 22, 2016)
- Comments of the Owners' Rights Initiative on the Role of Copyright Law with Respect to Software-Enabled Consumer Products (February 16, 2016)
Director, Program on Public Access to Information