February 16, 2018

Library Associations Spearhead New Copyright Coalition

recreate-logoA group of technology companies, trade associations, and civil society organizations have joined forces to form Re:Create, a national coalition to advocate for balanced copyright policy. In the wake of recent proposals to amend the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, as well as constant advances in the field of knowledge creation, coalition members are calling for responsive copyright law that balances the interests of those who create information and products with those of users and innovators, providing robust exceptions as well as limitations to copyright law in order that it not limit new uses and technologies.

Particular attention will be paid to the concept of fair use, considered a “safety valve” within U.S. copyright law and an important reinforcement of the First Amendment right to freedom of expression. This emphasis is particularly timely, as on April 29 register of copyrights Maria Pallante announced at a House Judiciary Committee hearing that the U.S. Copyright Office would launch a Fair Use Index—a searchable database listing court opinions pertaining to fair use. “This is perfect timing for us to be together and talk about the issues, and have a coordinated voice if possible,” said Carrie Russell, director of the American Library Association (ALA) Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) Program on Public Access to Information. “I don’t believe we’re going to agree on all issues,” she added, but the wide and bipartisan range of partners will ensure that the coalition’s message—ensuring that copyright laws are clear, simple and transparent, while also fostering innovation, creativity, education and economic growth—reaches groups across the spectrum.

Partners from all sectors will be working together toward Re:Create’s agenda: ALA, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, the Consumer Electronics Association, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Media Democracy Fund, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Public Knowledge, and the R Street Institute. According to its website, Re:Create will be “Supporting a Pro-Innovation, Pro-Creator, Pro-Consumer Copyright Agenda.”


While there have been copyright coalitions before, Russell explained, this is probably the largest, and the most representative of the public interest. “This group really wants to focus on people,” she told LJ: “new creators, the kinds of people who are buying digital music, kids in school, people who are using 3-D printing. What do they want to do? Let’s make sure that they can create and the law doesn’t stifle that kind of thing.” In addition, she noted, this will give groups whose agendas don’t ordinarily overlap the chance to work together.

Krista Cox, director of public policy initiatives at ARL, agrees that the organization’s potential lies in its reach. “Re:Create…has civil society organizations, it has trade associations, it has companies, and it has both left-leaning and right-leaning organizations,” she noted. While similar initiatives in the nonprofit sector have focused on consumers, she told LJ, “this coalition is also talking about how important balanced copyright is to the tech industry, to companies. Fair use is important to everybody.”

Members of the copyright policy community have high hopes for the coalition’s interdisciplinary resources as well. “I’m hoping they’re able to harness their combined expertise to advocate for change,” said Kyle Courtney, copyright advisor for Harvard University and a 2015 LJ Mover & Shaker. “There are a lot of copyright experts in these organizations that are well respected in this field. I think combining forces, whether technical, legislative, legal, lobbying, and other advocacy fronts, can only aid the cause. And I think the cause is clear: promote the creation of copyright policies that make sense for…the public at large.”

In addition, as Kevin Smith, director of the Duke University Office of Copyright and Scholarly Communications, pointed out, “The academic community contributes substantial value to the cultural and creative productivity of the U.S., but the copyright part of that contribution (as opposed to patents and licensed technology) often seems to fly under the radar. The coalition would be one channel of influential stakeholders that could surface that contribution.”


Re:Create partners will lobby for progressive copyright policy on an individual basis, according to their organizations’ interests, and also as a group. Russell, for instance, would like to see the coalition address copyright trolls. As director of OITP, she said, “I have library users call me who get cease and desist letters—not through the proper take-down procedure, but directly from a copyright troll, with a threat of litigation.… People are frightened, so they pay. And the rights holder [thinks], ‘Hey, this is a good gig.’ They don’t have to go to court. They don’t have to prove their case. All they have to do is get somebody to cough up $250, $2,000.” She worries that such predatory practices could lead to a trend of conservatism among librarians when it comes to fair use. “They’ll be worried about everything everybody’s doing, and that will cause harm to the library user and the public.”

While the coalition is comprised of a number of leading contributors, it also has the potential to work on a grassroots level. Upcoming events of interest on its website include the 3-D printing and policy conference 3D/DC 2015 in Washington, DC, and Seedtime on Cumberland, a festival celebrating Appalachian people, music, arts, and culture. Cox noted that members also worked together for events as a part of ARL’s Fair Use Week in February.

Courtney, for one, appreciates Re:Create’s grassroots potential. “Maybe they can even…do a white paper,” he suggested, “propose legislation that doesn’t necessarily have to go to Congress, but start talking about it in a way that actually gets the public to engage. Because they’re saying that the public are creators now, more than they ever have been, and we need to respect that [change]—and when these creators then become [published] authors themselves, respect their rights as well.”

This is, Russell added, an interesting time for copyright laws. While legislative change can be time-consuming and cumbersome, the coalition has a clear opportunity to influence policy, especially in the current climate. “It’s kind of exciting because—wow, there could be a new copyright law,” she told LJ. “This could be like the Copyright Act of 1976. We’ll see.”

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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