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New threats of censorship of libraries and the Net loom in Congress.

The American Library Association is alerting its members and the general public about two bills pending in Congress. The first is House Resolution 2441, the National Information Infrastructure Copyright Protection Act of 1995, a legislative package heavily promoted by the motion-picture, recording, and publishing industries. If passed in its present form, it would: make it a copyright violation simply to browse the Internet without a license from copyright owners whose work appears there; subject computer-systems operators, including those of on-line services and networks in schools and libraries, to potentially crippking liability for the copyright violations of their users (even if the operator had no knowledge of such violations); and overrule long-standing Supreme Court precedent by making it illegal to manufacture, import, or distribute "any device, product, or component incorporated into a device" that can circumvent copyright (an ill-considered and overbroad prohibition which would effectively outlaw computers, computer software, modems, VCRs, copy machines, and other communications equipment).

The other bill is H.R. 989, the Copyright Term Extension Act, which the Intellectual Property Subcommittee is planning to wrap into H.R. 2441. In its current form, H.R. 989 would extend the term of copyright protection for published materials by 20 years and unpublished material by 10 years--thus imposing a 10-to 20-year moratorium on works about to enter the public domain. The costs to future librarians of tracking down the owners of these works--which could be 100 or more years old--would force libraries to divert money better spent serving the public. By wrapping H.R. 989 into H.R. 2441, the House would effectively short-circuit ongoing negotiations between the American Library Association and major copyright industries to craft an exemption from the term extension for libraries, archives, and nonprofit educational institutions so that they might continue to use the latest technologies to preserve deteriorating older works and to have sufficient copies of those works on hand and in easily accessible electronic form form guarantee their survival. Those negotiations, mediated by the Registrar of Copyrights, began last October.

The House Judiciary Committee's Intellectual Property Subcommittee completed its hearings on H.R. 2441 in February 1996 and, on May 15, began considering amendments to the bill in order to prepare it in its final form for going to the floor.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held the first of its own (nonjoint) hearings on these bills on May 7, is taking a far more deliberate approach and has indicated that changed need to be made to protect libraries and schools.

The ALA asks that the two bills not be voted out of the committees of either house unless and until they are amended to avoid the above problems; include provisions protecting "distance education," a process vital to rural communities and the disabled; and include the series of amendments proposed by the Digital Future Coalition to allow industry, libraries, and schools to make "fair use" of encrypted information, including that appearing on the Internet. The ALA declares that, if Congress is to update copyright law for the digital age, the rights and needs of both copyright owners and information users must be fully respected and advanced.

For more information about these bills, the dangers they pose, the constructive solutions offered, and suggestions on what you can do, see the Digital Future Coalition Website at http://www.ari.net/dfc or contact Ephram Cohen of the DFC at (202) 628-6048.

The Supreme Court And Gay Rights

On May 20, 1996, in a six-to-three decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the judgment of the Colorado courts in striking down Colorado's Amendment 2, a 1992 ballot proposition designed by the religious right to (in Justice Anthony Kennedy's words) prohibit "all legislative, executive, or judicial action at any level of state or local government designed to protect the named class, a class we shall refer to as homosexual persons or gays and lesbians." Amendment 2 was the only one of five antigay ballot initiatives placed on state ballots to pass, and then only by a narrow margin. Voters in Idaho, Maine, and Oregon rejected similar efforts (in fact, Oregon voters did so twice).

Although this Court decision is widely understood as a precedent involving the rights of lesbians and gays, Justice Kennedy's majority opinion is far broader, declaring:

A State cannot deem a class of persons a stranger to its laws.... It is not within our constitutional tradition to enact laws of this sort. Central both to the idea of the rule of law and to our own Constitution's guarantee of equal protection is the principle that government and each of its parts remain open on impartial terms to all who seek its assistance.

The dissenting opinion was written by Justice Antonin Scalia, who states that Amendment 2 "does no more than deny homosexuals special rights" and prohibits "special protection"--which is exactly the claim made in its defense by the religious right.

Liberals United, while responding favorably to the decision, offered this cautionary remainder: "The majority opinion did not mention the unfortunate Bowers v. Hardwick decision ... handed down in 1986 [which] upheld the constitutionality of state antisodomy laws." And since the Clinton administration has already emboldened the religious right by announcing its own willingness to endorse Republican legislation banning same-sex marriages, this controversy is far from over.

So-Called Equal Opportunity Legislation

Action could be scheduled at any time by the full House of Representatives on H.R. 2128, the Equal Opportunity Act, a bill that threatens to dismantle over 30 years of significant federal civil-rights enforcement policies. The Senate has not yet scheduled action on its companion measure. Both bills would:

* exacerbate a recent Supreme Court decision which has already significantly undermined affirmative action by outlawing even those federal programs which meet the new "strict scrutiny" standard for race-based remedies;

* reject the gains made in the Bakke case, which holds that race can be considered among a number of factors in affirmative-action programs; and

* carve out sweeping exceptions to the ban on sex discrimination, which could be read to supersede other federal sex-discrimination laws (particularly Title VII prohibiting sex and race discrimination in employment).

Contact your congressional representatives and urge them to oppose such a sweeping attack on civil-rights protections and affirmative-action policies.
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
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Title Annotation:Worth Noting
Author:Wipond, Rob
Publication:The Humanist
Date:Jul 1, 1996
Words:1038
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