Monday, April 03, 2006

Revising Section 108 of US Copyright Law

Slashdot mentions that The Section 108 Study Group is inviting comments in its effort to improve Section 108 of the US Copyright Laws, which deals with the reproduction rights of libraries and archives. From Slashdot:
The Section 108 Study Group, a group of copyright experts, has been meeting to discuss Section 108 of the U.S. Copyright Law. It is focusing on preservation of websites and access to digital copies of library materials. Representatives of Internet Archive, including Brewster Kahle, went to the group's public roundtable sessions in March. Google did not register to attend the roundtable sessions even though the findings of the Section 108 Study Group may impact Google's Library Project. The Section 108 Study Group seeks written comments through April 17, 2006, according to this Federal Register notice.
Revisiting Section 108 is an important step that needs to be taken. The statute concerns itself with the number of copies made for archival use, causing problems in a digital age where there are no longer physical restraints on making copies. Does making one digital copy count as one of the permissible number of copies made, or does every page view (which could be an unlimited number) count as a copy? Also, the statute says that it is not infringement if "reproduction or distribution is made without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage." A search engine might want to one day scan the contents of prestigious libraries to make them searchable, but the words of the statute would only allow it for purely altruistic reasons.

Interestingly, Google has decided not to join the discussion even though it would appear to be in their best interest to do so. Such a decision might more of a public relations decision than anything else.

The four issues the group is focusing on are:
1) Eligibility for section 108 exceptions;
2) Amendments to the preservation and replacement exceptions in subsections (b) and (c), including amendment to the 3 copy limit and off-site access restrictions;
3) Proposals for a new exception to permit the creation of preservation-only/restricted access copies in limited circumstances;
4) A new exception to permit preservation of websites and other online content.

The group notes that part of their motivation for Section 108 revisions is "the fact that digital preservation cannot be conducted without making multiple copies, and the lack of statutory copyright exceptions that clearly permit activities for effective preservation." In short, libraries are concerned over DRM and fear that such technology could essentially destroy many of the social and cultural functions that libraries serve when what used to be in books is now in a digital format.

The Group is still seeking comments, so if you have thoughts on the topic, submit them here.
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