Tag Archives: copyright reform

Thoughts on the Section 108 Reform Discussion Draft

On Friday, September 15, 2017, the Copyright Office released a discussion document on proposed reform to Section 108 of the Copyright Act, the provision that sets out specific limitations and exceptions for libraries and archives.

In recommending reform, the Copyright Office acknowledges “the fact that many members of the library and archives communities have expressed concern about revising section 108.” However, the Copyright Office is nonetheless convinced that Section 108 should be updated to address the digital age.

The Copyright Office makes several proposals for revision including, among others:

  • Including museums as beneficiaries of the exception as well as adding some additional conditions for eligibility for Section 108
  • Replacing the current published/unpublished distinction with a publicly disseminated/not publicly disseminated distinction
  • Allowing preservation copies for all works to be put into a dark archive
  • Removing the three-copy limit and replacing it with a “reasonably necessary” standard
  • Allowing for a replacement copy to be made for “fragile” copies and expanding off-premises access for replacement copies
  • Eliminating the exclusion of certain works from the provisions permitting copies to be made at the request of users
  • Providing that there is no federal copyright infringement for preservation reproductions in violation of non-bargained-for contractual language, though actions may still be brought for contractual violations
  • Allowing institutions to contract with third parties to perform the reproduction functions under section 108

The report itself, as well as the recommendations, is clearly the product of a great deal of thought and engagement with stakeholders. The recommendations clearly lay out the reasoning behind the proposals and give concrete examples illustrating how the new provisions would operate.

For the most part, the recommended changes to Section 108 reflect the current state of what libraries are already doing under Section 108, supplemented by the fair use right under Section 107. Libraries are already engaged in digitization activities, including mass digitization, for preservation purposes. Although there is a three-copy limit under current Section 108, libraries already engage in the going beyond this limit when making digital copies for the purpose of creating one end-use copy; this is simply a practical extension of what Section 108 intended to permit and fair use should be thought to naturally extend to such temporary, incidental copies.

While codifying these activities to provide a safe harbor so that libraries do not need to rely on fair use is beneficial, in some ways the report fails to fully extend to many of the projects libraries currently engage in. For example, the preservation copies would be limited to a dark archive; libraries already routinely rely on fair use to digitize special collections and provide access to the public. The Copyright Office also chooses not to propose an exception for web-harvesting, though many libraries currently preserve web pages around particular issues.

Although the report contains many positive recommendations—even if they do not fully reflect the current activities of many libraries and archives—one of the deepest concerns regarding reform of Section 108 is that any gains that could be made to update the provision would not be worth the risk of potentially losing the fair use savings clause. Certainly, there is no dispute that Section 108, original written for the 1976 Copyright Act, could benefit from some updates for the digital age. However, these revisions are not necessary because fair use sufficiently updates Section 108 to cover activities necessary in the digital age. Indeed, the Second Circuit confirmed in Authors Guild v. HathiTrust that Section 107 complements the specific provisions in 108.

To be clear, the Copyright Office’s discussion draft explicitly recommends retention of the savings clause and its confirmation of the importance of fair use is much appreciated.

In recognition of Congress’s intent to maintain both section 108 and fair use as tools for libraries and archives, and the use and acceptance of this principle by eligible institutions, copyright owners, users, and the courts, the Copyright Office feels strongly that the fair use savings clause must remain in section 108 regardless of any other amendments that may be found necessary. Even a revised section 108 cannot address every situation in which public policy would deem it reasonable for a library or archives to reproduce or distribute a copy of a work without first attempting to seek permission. In fact, this Discussion Document explicitly leaves web harvesting and similar collection of Internet content by libraries and archives to fair use, and there are other circumstances not addressed by section 108, such as electronic reserves, where fair use must continue to govern. Thus, it is essential that the fair use savings clause stay in section 108.

While the Copyright Office’s commitment to retaining the fair use savings clause is a welcome inclusion in the report, a lingering concern remains as to whether the fair use savings clause would survive the legislative process. Although the Copyright Office recognizes the wisdom and importance of including a savings clause, it is clear that other stakeholders—particularly the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the Authors Guild—want to remove the savings clause.

In litigation between the Authors Guild and HathiTrust, the Authors Guild advanced the argument that libraries could not rely on fair use because of the existence of a specific limitation and exception under the Copyright Act. Even though the statute clearly provides a savings clause that reads, “Nothing in this section in any way affects the right of fair use . . .” the Authors Guild nonetheless argued against its application. The Second Circuit dismissed this argument in a footnote, but the Authors Guild’s actions in the case show a clear intention to attack fair use.

Similarly, last year, Allan Adler, General Counsel and Vice President of Legal and Government Affairs at AAP, was quoted in Communications Daily as advocating for Congress to “clarify ‘the relationship between the specifics of the Section 108 exemption and more general limitations and exemptions like fair use . . . It makes little sense for Congress to attempt to craft specific limitations and exceptions that take into account the nature of particular users or particular kinds of works if instead people are simply going to look to fair use in order to support such activities.”

With stakeholders like the AAP and Authors Guild eager to strip Section 108 of its fair use savings clause, supporting Section 108 reform becomes a very risky proposition. While the Copyright Office recommends some reasonable and sensible updates to Section 108 for the digital age, these improvements must be weighed against the risk of losing the fair use savings clause; the proposed changes are clearly not worth trading in the savings clause, but whether it is worth the risk of the legislative process remains a question.

Australian Productivity Commission Recommends Fair Use, Shorter Copyright Terms

On April 29, 2016, the Australian Productivity Commission issued a nearly 600 page draft report on Intellectual Property Arrangements recommending a number of positive changes to provide better balance to the intellectual property system, including recommendations on fair use, shorter copyright terms, and specifying that copyright licensing does not override limitations and exceptions for libraries and archives.

In the overview, while the Commission acknowledges the importance of incentivizing creation, the report also notes that

the use of an idea by one party does not reduce its capacity for use by another, and and that ideas provide economic and social value as other parties draw on existing knowledge to create their own.  Since new ideas are a major source of economic growth, any defects in IP arrangements intended to encourage their creation and diffusion can be very costly

[ . . .]

Indeed, overly strong restrictions on diffusion can be so detrimental to innovation that it can undo the benefits of the IP system in the first place . . .

The Commission begins a section entitled “Copy(not)right” by pointing out that “Australia’s copyright arrangements are weighed too heavily in favour of copyright owners, to the detriment of the long-term interests of both consumers and intermediate users.”  Much of the framework emphasizes balance and also recognizes the need for adaptability.

The Commission’s report also points out the importance of erring on the side of weaker IP protections because:

Recent experience would also tend to suggest that it is easier to extend IP rights than narrow them, especially where international agreements are concerned.  Given the asymmetric nature of how policy can be changed, the Commission considers it is appropriate “to err on the side of caution” where there is imperfect information, and deliberately set weaker parameters in the way that rights are assigned, used or enforced.  Extending rights should only occur after careful consideration of how such a change might affect future innovations, whether IP rights are the best way to drive the desired outcome, and how it might affect the greater number of consumers relative to producers of IP.

Ultimately, “the current Copyright Act is weighted too heavily in favor of copyright owners, to the detriment of the long-term interests of users.”

Fair Use

The Commission examines fair use and fair dealing exceptions and explains that Australia’s fair dealing exception provides a closed list of uses.  The US fair use approach, by contrast, relies on factors to determine whether the exception applies.  Thus, “In Australia, legislative change is required to expand the categories of use deemed to be fair.  In contrast, US courts have latitude to determine if, on the facts, a new use of copyright material is fair.  This allows the exception to be flexible and adaptive over time.”

The draft report includes a illustrative list of uses considered to be fair use in the US which would require a license in Australia, as it is not permitted by the current fair dealing provision.  These uses include: an internet search engine’s publication of thumbnail images in search results; an author’s quotation of unpublished letters in a biography; an artist’s collage using images from a photography book; a searchable database of TV clips; the use of scenes from a film for a biographical film about the lead actor; text and data mining, among others.

The Commission rejects the argument that fair use is too uncertain and therefore should not be adopted:

In the Commission’s view, legal uncertainty is not a compelling reason to eschew a fair use exception in Australia, nor is legal certainty desirable in and of itself.  Courts interpret the application of legislative principles to new cases all the time, updating case law when the circumstances warrant it.  To say otherwise would be to argue that all laws should be prescriptive — a doctrine that is inconsistent with many laws across all social and economic arenas, and completely inimical to the common law.  In addition, even under a fair use regime it is possible to specify a non-exhaustive list of illustrative purposes which provides strong guidance to parties.

Additionally, the Commission points out that there are similarities between the US’ fair use factors and the factors within Australia’s current fair dealing exception for research or study and that fair use may not be as uncertain as suggested.  The report points out that, while not binding, Australia could also look to US court opinions for guidance on fair use.

In 2014, the Australia Law Reform Commission recommended inclusion of a fair use provision with illustrative examples including those found in the US fair use statutes as well as parody or satire; professional advice; quotation; non-commercial private use; incidental or technical use; library or archive use; and access for people with disabilities.  The Productivity Commission states that “the ALRC’s recommendation on fair use represents the minimum level of change the Australian Government should pursue” and recommends expansion of a fair use provision to apply to orphan works and out-of-commerce works (meaning that these would be included in the non-exhaustive illustrative list of purposes).

Explaining the problem of orphan works, the Commission states that it “is not aware of any country that has fully resolved the issue of orphan and unavailable works” then examines the three approaches others are considering including: requiring a statutory license, creating an exception for the use of orphan works (such as the EU directive) and limitations on damages and remedies (proposed by the US Copyright Office).  The draft report concludes:

in the case of orphan and out-of-commerce works, creators are not actively exploiting their creation in order to generate an economic return.  Proposals to create licensing schemes, whereby consumers can pay to access such works, is one approach to unlocking their value, but likely represents a windfall gain to producers.  The Commission considers it unlikely that a creator, prior to investing the time and effort in a new work, does so on the basis that their work will have an initial commercial life, a period ‘out of the market’, and a subsequent revival perhaps decades down the track.  While this does occur for many works, it is largely by happenstance rather than design.

The Commission recommends that, “At its heart, Australia’s exception for fair use should allow all uses of copyright material that do not materially reduce a rights holder’s commercial exploitation of their work at the time of use.”

Copyright Term

The Commission’s report points out that a copyright term of life of the author plus 70 years is excessive.  While it acknowledges that Australia is bound to its long copyright terms as a result of trade agreements, it recommends international negotiations to lower the term.  The Commission notes:

An effective and efficient copyright system sets term at a level that encourages creation without unduly constraining access to creative works.  Since it is not possible to define terms specific to each given work, an “optimal” term is a period that, on average, creates reasonable incentives for creation while avoiding the consumer losses associated with exclusivity.  The situation is conceptually similar to that apply to patents.  Australia’s copyright term provides protection for the author’s life plus 70 years . . . Providing financial incentives so far into the future has little influence on today’s decision to produce.  For example, the addition of twenty years of protection many years in the future, such as occurred when Australia increased term from life plus 50 years to life plus 70 years . . . only increases revenue by 0.33per cent.  Such a small increase in revenue “offers at most a very small additional incentive for an economically minded author of a new work.” (citations omitted)

The Commission also reports that “evidence suggests the vast majority of works do not make commercial returns beyond their first couple of years on the market” and that the average commercial life of music is 2-5 years, for literary works 1.4-5 years, for visual artistic works 2 years, and for film 3.3-6 years.

In addition to the financial costs of copyright term extension in which consumers pay higher prices for a longer period of time, the report also acknowledges other costs such as orphan works.

Ultimately, the Commission finds that “While hard to pinpoint an optimal copyright term, a more reasonable estimate would be closer to 15 to 25 years after creation; considerably less than 70 years after death.”  The Commission acknowledges, however, that “Australia has no unilateral capacity to alter copyright terms, but can negotiate internationally to lower the copyright term” and “the Commission considers that there are strong grounds ofr Australia to work with other countries to attempt, over the long term, to achieve a system that gives greater recognition to consumer interests.”

Relationship Between Contracts and Limitations and Exceptions

The Commission examines the Australian Law Reform Commission’s 2014 recommendation that would prevent copyright licenses from relying on limitations and exceptions and concludes:

exceptions play an important role in balancing the interests of copyright producers and users.  Given the evidence presented by the Australian Libraries Copyright Committee, the Council of Australian University Libraries and National and State Libraries Australasia, the problems appear to mainly relate to libraries and archives, rather than other users.  Given this, the Commission considers that copyright license in the digital world should maintain the copyright exceptions for libraries and archives.

Because “It is less clear license conditions for digital content are undermining consumers’ ability to use Australia’s current copyright exceptions,” the Commission requests more information on this issue beyond the impact on libraries and archives.

Parallel Importation

The Commission also recommends repeal of Australia’s parallel importation restrictions on books and that the reform take effect no later than the end of 2017.

Trade Agreements

The draft report points out some of the harms of increasing intellectual property rights in trade agreements.  For example, with respect to copyright term extension implemented as a result of the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement, the estimated cost to Australia was $88 million per year.  The report points out that “A similar obligation to New Zealand as a result of the Trans-Pacific Partnership was estimated to cost $55 million per year.”

Another key point from the report was that “Multilateral and bilateral trade agreements are the primary determinant of Australia’s IP arrangements.  These agreements substantially constrain domestic IP policy flexibility.”

ICYMI: CCIA Releases White Paper, Copyright Reform for a Digital Economy

On August 25, 2015, the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) released its White Paper, Copyright Reform for a Digital Economy.  The report notes that the House Judiciary Committee began comprehensive copyright review in 2013 and points out that new technology has changed the way creative industries and communication operate.  For example, the growth of the Internet has lowered the cost of distribution and “radically changed the economics of scholarly communications and other educational resources.  This, in turn, has allowed open access business models to flourish in these markets.”  The report points out the importance of balance and “any copyright reform should acknowledge the significance of doctrines ensuring copyright flexibility, particularly limitations and exceptions like the fair use doctrine and first sale.”

Among the highlights, the report points out:

The principle of copyright remains an important tool in the Government’s toolbox to promote scientific, cultural and economic progress, but in current practice, the complex, opaque, and highly concentrated U.S. system is increasingly incapable of facilitating certain socially and economically desirable uses.  Easily navigated only by the most experienced corporate actors, the credibility of the copyright system is being tested as it leaves ‘”consumers and other private citizens…increasingly frustrated.”

With respect to fair use, the report cites studies done on the fair use economy pointing out the significant role industries relying on limitations and exceptions have played in growing the US economy.  The report continues,

[P]rotection exceeding the amount necessary to incentivize innovation represents a deadweight loss to the economy.  Limitations and exceptions help minimize the deadweight loss, and several, such as the fair use doctrine, provide breathing room for new innovations.

The report goes on to point out that fair use is not limited to the technology sector and has been successfully relied upon by “theatre producers, artists, movie studios . . . patent lawyers, rock bands and an NFL football team.”  In other words, as pointed out in the Fair Use Fundamentals infographic created for last year’s Fair Use Week,* fair use is relied upon by everyone.  While the report notes the importance of fair use, it does not recommend reform of the doctrine but instead cautions Congress to consider the

other reforms [that] may affect the fair use doctrine, and potential effects on fair use should be considered in any reform.  For example, increasing statutory damages may deter socially desirable fair uses, and allowing DMCA abuses to continue unchecked may prevent fair use criticism, commentary and political speech.  Because fair use is so integral to the fabric of the Copyright Act, it must be a central consideration in any legislative effort.

In addition to fair use, the report also emphasizes another important limitation in copyright law: the first sale doctrine.

With respect to other areas under consideration for copyright reform, the report points out that safe harbors in the online environment have ensured predictability, but suggests that safe harbors could be strengthened.  It also points out that the DMCA takedown process can be misused.

The report also points out the chilling effect of statutory damages which has led to copyright trolling.  It notes, “regardless of the propriety of the remedy, however, to whatever extent statutory damages deter misbehavior, they also deter investment by creating substantial uncertainty and risk.”  The report cites several suggestions by scholars to reduce statutory damages and also pointing to a proposal

to generally remit statutory damages in cases where defendants can demonstrate a reasonable good faith belief that their activity was a fair use (or perhaps covered by any defense).  Section 504(c)(2) already has exactly this provision, but limits it to nonprofit educational institutions, libraries, archives and public broadcasters.  Because deterrence is inappropriate where a defendant had a reasonable good faith belief that their conduct was non-infringing, this provision could be extended to all good faith actors.  In the rare case where this might leave plaintiffs under-compensated, they could still obtain actual damages and injunctions.

The report also points out that international agreements can constrain reforms.  For example,

extraordinarily long copyright terms are also a result of international agreements, which have extended the copyright term to last for the life of the author, plus an additional 50 years (in the case of the Berne Convention and TRIPS) or the life of the author plus an additional 70 years (in the case of the free trade agreements).  This exacerbated the orphan works problem while diminishing the ability of artists to make productive uses of older works, e.g., new performances of older plays.  The Supreme Court has validated the most recent extension in Eldred v. Ashcroft, notwithstanding economic studies showing that extending the term of protection from 56 years to life plus 50 or 70 years does not measurably incentivize additional creative activity.

It is no exaggeration to say that international copyright treaty obligations have contributed to a legitimacy crisis in the contemporary copyright system.  Survey data suggests there is a declining public respect for copyright.  Terms extending well over a century have been the source of high-profile disputes casting copyright in a poor light, and when combined with the absence of formalities, exceptionally long terms have proven to be a significant problem for researchers, historians and preservationists, among others.

Another problem the report highlights i the relationship between contract and copyright, where license terms may override limitations and exceptions.  The report points to proposals against “contracting out” in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia and concludes that “effective copyright law reform must recognize that Congress’s intentions can be subverted through contract, and that licensing agreements between competitors can give rise to substantial market power.”  Likewise, the report notes that “substantial aspects of copyright reform could be rendered largely irrelevant if rightsholders can control all uses via TPMs.”

The entire report is well worth a read.

*Fair Use Week 2016 will take place from February 22-26, 2016.  For more information please visit www.fairuseweek.org*