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LCA Hearing Statement for House Judiciary Committee Hearing on Copyright Reform

Last Updated on January 14, 2014, 7:50 pm ET

On January 14, 2014, the House Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet held another hearing on the issue of copyright reform, this one focusing on the broadcast right, the making available right, and state laws and building codes under copyright. In advance of the hearing, the Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) submitted a statement addressing all three issues. The full statement can be found here.

Broadcast Right

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has considered proposals to create a broadcast treaty that would create a new intellectual property protection for broadcasters. This new right would create a right to control broadcasts and would exist in addition to the copyrights held by the creators of the programming shown, thereby creating an additional layer of rights to contend with for users of broadcasted content. The LCA statement notes that it has seen “no compelling public policy reason for a broadcast treaty” at the WIPO and, likewise, sees no justification for a broadcast right in the United States. In particular, LCA has concerns that a broadcast right could impact libraries by limiting classroom instruction, particularly for distance education; educational and research uses that are currently permitted by the Copyright Act; and public disclosure of news, public affairs programs, and public domain materials, particularly on the Internet.

Making Available Right

LCA also has concerns regarding the creation of a making available right, an exclusive right to authorize or prohibit communication of works or the “making available” of the work through interactive networks, a right that could expand the distribution and public performance rights that currently exist under U.S. law. LCA has particular concerns regarding a making available right and its impact on the three-year statute of limitations found in 17 U.S.C. §507(a). The concerns arise from courts’ interpretation of the distribution right in Hotaling v. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and Diversey v. Schmidly. In these cases, the courts circumvented the three-year statute of limitations by distorting the meaning of the distribution right and finding that the mere availability of an unauthorized copy to the public qualifies as distribution, even where no patron ever borrowed the copy. The statement warns that, “A making available right has the potential to eviscerate the statute of limitations in copyright cases in the digital age. Accordingly, Congress should proceed in this area with great caution.”

A making available right could impact a wide range of activities and create liability even where an unauthorized copy of a work was never downloaded, used or truly distributed. For example, “an image [could be] included in a PowerPoint presentation that was archived on the website of a library association after the presentation was delivered. The image could be detected more than three years later by a company that crawls the web for an image-licensing firm, such as Getty or Corbis.” However, even if that presentation had never been downloaded in three-years, the creation of a making available right could overcome the three three-year statute of limitations and create liability. The LCA statement notes that “There is no policy justification for imposing strict liability for statutory damages simply because the potential existed during the three year limitation period for a person to have viewed the image, just as there is no policy justification for a library to be liable for infringing the distribution right with respect to a copy that was never borrowed.”

State Laws and Building Codes

LCA continues to oppose copyright protection for state laws in building codes and supports the Fifth Circuit’s 2002 decision in Veeck v. Southern Building Code Congress that “‘the law’ whether articulated in judicial opinions or legislative acts or ordinances, is in the public domain and thus not amenable to copyright.”

Veeck reflects the strong public policy that the public must have free access to the laws, in order to understand the legal rules to which they are subject. Notably, Veeck’s ruling was limited and applied only to reproduction of enacted model laws, not the model codes themselves, thereby continuing to provide the drafters of such codes the ability to protect their model laws or regulations through copyright.

The LCA statement supports the Fifth Circuit reasoning in _Veeck _that copyright is unnecessary to incentivize the creation of model laws or codes. As the statement notes, “The private sector spends literally billions of dollars each year lobbying legislative bodies. The notion that industry groups would stop drafting model laws that benefit them if they did not receive copyright revenues is, frankly, absurd. Certain groups might have to change their business models, but at the end of the day, the private sector will find a way to fund model law drafting activities because they simply are too important to the affected industries.”