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What Libraries Need In Copyright Reform

Last Updated on May 16, 2011, 5:38 pm ET

Today the Library Copyright Alliance released a statement describing the key features copyright reform proposals should include in order to constitute significant improvement over current law for libraries and their users. In the wake of the recent rejection of the Google Books settlement, interested parties are discussing with renewed vigor the issues of orphan works, mass digitization, and even modernization of Section 108 of the Copyright Act. The LCA statement, which represents the needs of major library stakeholders in these debates, should provide helpful guideposts for these discussions.

Libraries have always advocated for reasonable copyright policy, in courts as well as in Congress, and the LCA welcomes renewed interest in these issues in response to Judge Chin’s decision. At the same time, library activities already benefit from broad, flexible protection under the fair use doctrine and related provisions in current law. Therefore, only a clear improvement over the status quo is worth the substantial investment and risk associated with legislative change. The LCA statement describes the status quo for libraries as well as the policies that would constitute substantial improvement.

The proposal focuses on exempting libraries from the draconian statutory damages currently available under copyright law. Together with a notice-and-takedown mechanism, this reduction in damages would free libraries to make policy decisions based on the true balance of equities between library use and rightsholder harm, rather than acting under the threat of damages awards out of all proportion to the typically negligible harm associated with library uses. While the future of copyright reform efforts is foggy at best, the LCA statement represents a clear articulation of what libraries need for reform to be worthwhile.