Broad Based Coalition Expresses Concern Over Intellectual Property Proposals and Urges Close Congressional Scrutiney
WASHINGTON, D.C. November 15, 2020
Consumers, distributors and creators of information welcome today's Congressional hearing scrutinizing the Administration's White Paper on Intellectual Property in the National Information Infrastructure. "The legal regime envisioned by the White Paper has serious flaws, and we are confident that these flaws will become more evident to Congress as it deliberates this issue," said Adam Eisgrau, Legislative Counsel of the American Library Association. In letters dated November 9 and published in Roll Call (Nov. 13), the Digital Future Coalition urged Congress to thoroughly examine the currently pending proposal. The coalition's members are concerned that premature action on this highly complex legislation presents substantial risk of unintended consequences.
The Digital Future Coalition (DFC) is a recently-formed organization representing more than 2.2 million individuals, corporations and organizations with direct interest and expertise in the continued growth and development of the National Information Infrastructure (NII). The members of the DFC are committed to supporting proposals that promote innovation in the information and technology industries, personal privacy in electronic communication and public access to information resources, as well as appropriate protection for copyrighted content in the digital environment.
The DFC is deeply concerned that these universal goals will not be realized if the unbalanced analysis and incomplete technological understanding of the recent "White Paper" report by the National Information Infrastructure Task Force's Intellectual Property Working Group are accepted and prematurely codified. While the authors of the White Paper claim that its recommendations, embodied in H.R. 2441 and S. 1284, constitute only a "minor clarification" of current copyright law, the DFC says the real ramifications of these recommendations are sweeping.
Additionally, the proposed legislation could reduce public and educational access to the Internet. This legislation "threatens the growth of new electronic educational techniques, such as `distance learning' programs vital to rural communities, by imposing potentially prohibitive copyright clearance costs on academic innovators," according to Peter Jaszi, Professor, American University law school.
The DFC believes that the legal regime envisioned in the White Paper and reflected in H.R. 2441 and S. 1284 is one that could delay or even prevent the emergence of new commercial technologies, and frustrate competition in the marketplace for digital goods and services by picking "winners" over startup enterprises. It could also invite invasion of the privacy of digital information user, expose on-line/internet service providers to unspecified legal liability and reduce educators' and the public's access to digital information. As it stands, the current legislation could "stifle innovation and job creation in the private sector," said Edward J. Black, President of the Computer & Communications Industry Association. "Overbroad prohibitions against the manufacture and sale of useful consumer electronic devices, and severe restrictions on the legitimate reverse analysis of hardware and software to achieve interoperability, are just two examples of the unintended consequences currently contained in the White Paper."
In its letter, the DFC expressed concern that these and other proposals are being put forward as international treaty language before being fully considered domestically. Moreover, the DFC urged Congress not to rush its deliberations as a result of the international agenda.
In the best interests of American creators and users of intellectual property, the coalition has urged Congress to thoroughly scrutinize the full range of issues raised by the National Information Infrastructure and actively seek independent and detailed assessments of the White Paper from interested organizations across the political spectrum. Furthermore, the DFC asked Congress to communicate to the Executive Branch that making commitments in international negotiations would be premature at this time.
"Today, both commercial and non-commercial use of the NII is increasing geometrically, within the sound basic framework of existing intellectual property laws. There is therefore no urgent reason to legislate soon rather than well," said Eisgrau.