Tag Archives: judiciary

Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on ECPA Reform

Today, September 16, 2015, the Senate Judiciary Committee will host a hearing on “Reforming the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.”  The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) was passed in 1986 and is badly in need of reform.  The law has not kept pace with evolving technologies and denies important privacy protections for electronic communications, allowing agencies to access documents or communications stored online that are older than 180 days without a warrant.  This outdated law has led to an absurdity that affords greater protection to hard copy documents than digital communication.

As libraries and universities move services into the cloud and more communications take place online, it is critical that Fourth Amendment protect information long considered to be private—including what individuals are reading or researching, and to whom they are talking—even in the digital world. The growth of the Internet has launched new forms of communications and changed the way individuals interact since ECPA’s enactment in 1986. ECPA reform would require warrant for content, extending Fourth Amendment protections to online documents.

The ECPA reform bill in the House of Representatives, known as the Email Privacy Act and introduced by Representatives Yoder (R-KS) and Polis (D-CO) currently has 292 co-sponsors, representing an overwhelming majority.   The Senate version, known as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments Act also has bipartisan support, was introduced by Senators Lee (R-UT) and Leahy (D-VT) and currently has 23 co-sponsors.  Today, the full Senate Judiciary Committee will consider what reforms to ECPA are necessary, with two panels.  The first panel will consist of government witnesses from the Department of Justice, Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission.  The second panel has four witnesses representing the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Google, the Center for Democracy and Technology and BSA | The Software Alliance.

Twenty-nine years after ECPA’s passage, reform is long overdue.  Congress should bring these bills to a vote and pass ECPA reform to ensure that 4th Amendment rights are preserved in today’s digital world.  Hopefully, today’s Senate hearing is a step toward moving ECPA reform forward.

 

Misconceptions About GSU Electronic Reserves, Coursepacks and the Media Neutrality Doctrine

In recent testimony (both written and oral) at the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Hearing on Copyright Issues in Education and for the Visually Impaired, Allan Adler, representing the Association of American Publishers, asserted that in the Georgia State e-reserves case, the Eleventh Circuit erred in rejecting applicability of the media neutrality doctrine, the principle that copyright law should apply in a similar manner to similar works in different media. Invoking the media neutrality doctrine, Mr. Adler essentially argued that the “coursepack” cases – Basic Books Inc. v. Kinko’s Graphics Corp. and Princeton University Press v. Michigan Document Services – should control and that the use of copyrighted material in Georgia State’s e-reserves was not fair use. This argument ignores several important points regarding the facts of the case, including the fact that the coursepack cases were distinguishable on grounds that had nothing to do with media neutrality.

First, the coursepack cases do not apply because material placed in electronic reserves are not the equivalent of material that is collected and bound together in a coursepack. A coursepack is like an anthology sold to all the students in a course, which the students can place on their bookshelves and continue to use long after the end of the course. By contrast, in an e-reserves system, the university provides students with temporary access privileges that terminate at the end of the semester. A student can continue to access the materials that were in the course e-reserves only if the student became the volitional actor by printing out the materials while she still had access to them. That copying by a student for her personal use unquestionably is a fair use. The media neutrality doctrine applies only in cases where the cases are truly analogous.

Additionally, the coursepack cases are not controlling because the circumstances of those cases were very different than the facts in Georgia State. In particular, the coursepack cases clearly involved commercial, for-profit copy shops and the coursepacks were sold to students for a profit. By contrast, the e-reserves at issue were run by Georgia State University, a non-profit educational institution and the use was also a non-profit, educational use. This distinction is significant under the first fair use factor which looks at “the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.” As the Eleventh Circuit pointed out in rejecting the coursepack cases that in these cases:

. . . the nontransformative, educational use in question was performed by a for-profit copyshop, and was therefore commercial . . . [Courts have] refused to allow the defendants, who were engaged in commercial operations, to stand in the shoes of students and professors in claiming that their making of multiple copies of scholarly works was for nonprofit educational purposes.

However, in both of the coursepack cases, the courts expressly declined to conclude that the copying would fall outside the boundaries of fair use if conducted by professors, students, or academic institutions. See Princeton University Press, 99 F.3d at 1389 (“As to the proposition that it would be fair use for the students or professors to make their own copies, the issue is by no means free from doubt. We need not decide this question, however, for the fact is that the copying complained of here was performed on a profit-making basis by a commercial enterprise.”); Basic Books, 758 F. Supp. at 1536 n.13 (“Expressly, the decision of this court does not consider copying performed by students, libraries, nor on-campus copyshops, whether conducted for-profit or not.”).

Reliance on the coursepack cases is therefore misguided as they involved off-campus, for-profit copy shops rather than non-profit educational institutions. The courts in these coursepack cases explicitly note that the holdings of these cases do not reach the issue of copying by students, professors, libraries, or the academic institutions. In Georgia State, the e-reserves system was clearly run by the university. The coursepack cases are therefore distinguishable based on the analysis done under the first fair use factor.

Additionally, the coursepack cases are clearly not binding precedent on the Eleventh Circuit. These cases were decided in different jurisdictions – in a district court in New York and by the Sixth Circuit – and therefore not controlling. While the decisions in these cases may have had persuasive value, even if they had analogous fact patterns such opinions would not bind the Eleventh Circuit.

Finally, the decisions are more than 15 years old. Fair use jurisprudence is always evolving. There is no way to know if courts in the Second and Sixth Circuits would reach the same conclusion today that they reached in the last millennium.

While the media neutrality doctrine is an important copyright principle, it – and the coursepack cases – simply do not apply in the Georgia State decision. The Eleventh Circuit correctly rejected this holdings in this line of cases when considering the fair use of Georgia State’s e-reserves system.

LCA Statement on Copyright Remedies for House Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing

On July 24, 2014, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet continued its copyright review with a hearing on copyright remedies. Witnesses at this hearing include Mr. David Bitkower, Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice; Mr. Steven M. Tepp, President and Chief Executive Officer, Sentinel Worldwide; Mr. Matt Schruers, Vice President for Law and Policy, Computer & Communications Industry Association; Mr. Sherwin Siy, Vice President of Legal Affairs, Public Knowledge; and Ms. Nancy E. Wolff, Partner, Cowan DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard LLP.

The Library Copyright Alliance filed a statement for the hearing, focusing on the problems with statutory damages. The statement notes that the existing safe harbor requiring a court to remit statutory damages when a library, archive, educational institution or public broadcasting entity believed and had reasonable grounds to believe that its use constituted fair use applies only to the reproduction right. The statement recommends an update to reflect the digital era so that this safe harbor applies to any type of use, including those implicating performance, display, distribution or derivative work rights.

Observations from House Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing on Fair Use

The House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet continued its copyright review and held another hearing on Tuesday, January 28th. This hearing focused exclusively on the scope of fair use and the Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) submitted a written statement in advance of the hearing.

Fair use, originally a common law doctrine, is codified under Section 107 of the Copyright Act and permits reproduction and other uses of copyrighted works for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship and research. The statute includes four factors for consideration, including the character of the use, the nature of the work, the amount used in proportion to the whole, and the impact on the market for the work. Failure to meet all four criteria, however, does not bar a finding of fair use. Fair use is flexible and determinations for qualification under this doctrine are made on a case-by-case. Many of the statements made during the hearing, as well as the questions from Members, focused on the first factor, in particular the proper interpretation and application of whether a use has been “transformative.”

The hearing included five witnesses: Professor Peter Jaszi (American University); Professor June Besek (Columbia University); Naomi Novik (Author and co-founder of Organization for Transformative Works); David Lowery (Singer/Songwriter and Lecturer, University of Georgia); Kurt Wimmer (General Counsel of the Newspaper Association of America). For the most part, the witnesses did not recommend any statutory changes to Section 107 of the Copyright Act, even when they did not agree with particular court rulings regarding fair use. All witnesses seemed to agree that the courts are in the best position to determine whether a use is fair. Below are some brief observations from the hearing.

Testimony from Witnesses

Professor Peter Jaszi spoke first and gave background to the fair use doctrine, noting that the “transformative use” test was considered “unified field theory.” He also spoke on how courts have applied fair use in ways that both foster future innovation and serve the public interest. He suggested that, despite criticisms to the contrary, the jurisprudence on fair use is fairly predictable and coherent. He opposed reform to fair use, but suggested that the doctrine could use support, such as through changes in the statutory damage regime.

Professor June Besek went next and argued that fair use has been expanding. She criticized the application of fair use that has allowed new business models, rather than just new works of authorship. She suggested that “transformative use” has caused confusion with derivative works and argued that the pendulum has moved too far in the direction of the users.

Naomi Novik spoke next, beginning with her background as a New York Times bestselling author who, prior to writing her first novel, wrote fan-fiction and was a remix artist. She analogized fan-fiction to telling stories around a campfire. She also argued that licensing is unrealistic for both the writers of fan-fiction as well as the original authors because of the time, money and legal concerns. She suggested that Congress should lower damages in order to make fair use less frightening for the everyday person. She also proposed an exemption for non-commercial uses, such as those telling their stories around a metaphorical campfire.

David Lowery, a singer/songwriter, followed and clearly stated that fair use is working for the music industry. He raised concerns, however, about two particular areas where he felt that there were efforts to expand fair use to uses he did not think were covered under the statute. These areas include remixing and lyric websites. He noted that some music genres, such as hip hop, continue to flourish under licensing and fair use need not be expanded to promote these works. He also asserted that lyric websites that include annotations of the lyrics are not fair use and argued that it is not hard to ask for permission.

Kurt Wimmer, the final witness on the panel, serves as general counsel of the Newspaper Association of America. He noted that newspapers are rightholders, but also are reliant on fair use. He noted that while he does not agree with every fair use decision, the courts are in the best position to make these determinations. He expressed some concerns about the breadth of recent court decisions regarding transformative uses, but cited his support for the Swatch v. Bloomberg case that came down in favor of Bloomberg’s fair use argument just the day prior.

Questions From Members

Following witness statements, several Members posed questions to the witnesses. These questions covered a wide range of issues, including, among others, how to define “transformative,” whether exporting the doctrine of fair use to other countries is appropriate, and whether fair use is currently working for all groups.

Conclusion

In general, it seemed that all witnesses agreed that the fair use doctrine should continue to be interpreted and applied by the courts and the proposed solutions to perceived areas of concerns could be done outside the scope of Section 107 (such as recalibration of damages). Although there was some disagreement between witnesses over whether particular uses would, or should, qualify as fair use, the witnesses agreed on the importance of this doctrine.

Fair use, of course, has been of critical importance in supporting libraries’ key functions and allowing it to serve its patrons. Although specific limitations and exceptions exist elsewhere in the Copyright Act, many of which libraries frequently use, fair use allows libraries to act where these specific exceptions are too narrowly drawn, where no exceptions exist, or when technological advances outpace the law. Although the Members at the hearing seemed to take a keen interest in fair use, given the testimony of witnesses, hopefully Congress will agree that fair use generally works well.