Summary of This Week’s Hearings

This week, the House held many hearings on issues of interest to AALL. Mary Alice Baish and I attended hearings on network neutrality, orphan works, and EPA library closures. Here are our summaries of those hearings.

Hearing on Network Neutrality

On Tuesday, March 11, the House Judiciary Committee Antitrust Task Force held its hearing on network neutrality. The hearing brought together an interesting set of bedfellows, including Michele Combs, Vice President of Communications Christian Coalition of America and Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, who argued that net neutrality is a free speech issue. Damian Kulash, Lead Vocalist and Guitarist of the band OK Go and Susan P. Crawford, Visiting Associate Professor of Law at Yale Law School also testified in support of net neutrality. Christopher S. Yoo, Professor of Law and Communication and Director of the Center for Technology, Innovation, and Competition at University of Pennsylvania Law School, argued against mandating network neutrality, and Rick Carnes, President of the Songwriters Guild of America testified that internet regulation would harm the fight against internet piracy. Testimony is available on the Committee website.

While members of OK Go were up on the Hill, they sat down to talk with Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA-7), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, about why net neutrality is important to them and why they support Chairman Markey’s recently introduced net neutrality bill (H.R. 5353). OK Go has relied heavily on the internet, especially YouTube, to popularize their music videos, and one of their videos, “Here it Goes Again,” won a Grammy in 2007. “This video certainly would not have gotten out if it weren’t for Net Neutrality,” Kulash said.

Hearing on Orphan Works

On Thursday, March 13, the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property held an important hearing on “Promoting the Use of Orphan Works: Balancing the Interests of Copyright Owners and Users.” The term orphan works refers to the large volume of works that are likely still protected by copyright although their owners cannot be located after a reasonable effort. This is not a new issue for us. Following a 2005 investigation on orphan works by the U.S. Copyright Office, they published a report and recommendations that led to the introduction of the Orphan Works Act of 2006 (H.R. 5439). AALL strongly supported H.R. 5439 and many of you helped get cosponsors by responding to our action alert. Unfortunately, that bill did not move because of concerns raised by textile manufacturers and photographers.

Both groups were represented by witnesses at yesterday’s hearing who raised their continued concerns with the 2006 bill. Speaking on our side in support of the need for orphan works legislation were Register of Copyrights Marybeth Peters; Karen Coe, Associate Legal Counsel for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum; and Allan Adler, Vice President of Legal and Government Affairs for the Association of American Publishers. Testimony of all witnesses is available on the Committee website. It was clear from the hearing that the Subcommittee wants to move forward on a new bill while at the same time responding to concerns from the photographers and textile manufacturers. Stay tuned for next steps and, hopefully, the introduction of a new orphan works bill shortly.

Hearing on EPA’s Library Closures

Also on Thursday, the House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held a hearing titled, “EPA Library Closures: Better Access for a Broader Audience?.” The hearing was a lively one, and Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC) criticized the Environmental Protection Agency for its failure to talk to stakeholders and the public before closing the libraries and its continued failure to engage stakeholders on its plan to reopen the libraries, as authorized by the FY 2008 appropriations omnibus bill. EPA began closing regional libraries and its Headquarters library in 2006.

Witnesses included John Stephenson (GAO), Charles Orzehoskie (American Federation of Government Employees), Francesca Grifo (Union of Concerned Scientists), Jim Rettig (President–Elect of the American Library Association), and Molly O’Neill (Assistant Administrator for the Office of Environmental Information (OEI) and Chief Information Officer at the Environmental Protection Agency). Witness statements are available on the Committee website. AALL signed on to ALA’s statement.

The FY 2008 appropriations omnibus bill gave a $1 million order to the EPA to restore its library services across the country. The order included a direction to EPA to produce “a report on actions it will take to restore publicly available libraries to provide environmental information and data” to the Appropriations Committee by March 26. The report will include an explanation of EPA’s plan and progress for reopening the libraries.

AALL has been involved in this issue since February 2006, and we are pleased that at long last, the GAO report, “EPA Needs to Ensure That Best Practices and Procedures Are Followed When Making Further Changes to Its Library Network” has been released. We applaud its findings.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]


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