April 16, 2021

Library Copyright Alliance Voices Concerns Over Anti-Piracy Legislation

The Library Copyright Alliance (LCA)—whose members include the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), and the Association of College & Research Libraries—yesterday released a letter [PDF] written to the ranking members of the House Judiciary Committee to voice “serious concerns” about two provisions in H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) [PDF], which could greatly increase penalties for copyright infringement.

SOPA, introduced in the House on October 26, was announced by the House Judiciary Committee as “legislation that expands protections for America’s intellectual property (IP) and combats the illegal distribution of counterfeit goods via rogue websites.”

Brandon Butler, ARL’s director of public policy initiatives, in the letter on behalf of the LCA, took issue with two provisions of Section 201 of the act, which “could threaten important library and educational activities.”

One provision, he wrote, would expand the definition of “willful” copyright infringement to potentially include cases where a person believed in good faith that infringing conduct was lawful—a change that could vastly increase potential damages. “In cases of willful infringement, the court can increase the statutory damages to $150,000; in cases of innocent infringement, the court can reduce the statutory damages to $200,” Butler wrote.

Another provision of Section 201 would allow felony penalties for some unauthorized public performances of copyrighted works, including, potentially, non-commercial ones; currently, such infringements carry only misdemeanor penalties.

“A growing tension between rights holders and libraries”
Butler mentions three copyright infringement lawsuits against universities and their libraries—the Georgia State e-reserves case, the AIME vs. UCLA video streaming case, and Authors Guild v. HathiTrust. “These lawsuits reflect a growing tension between rights holders and libraries, and some rights holders’ increasingly belligerent enforcement mentality,” Butler wrote. (On September 14, the LCA released a statement [PDF] in support of HathiTrust and its research library partners in the Authors Guild v. HathiTrust case.)

Butler claims that the Section 201 provisions increase the possibility of libraries being criminally prosecuted for copyright infringement. “The broadening of the definition of willful infringement could result in a criminal prosecution if an Assistant U.S. Attorney believes that a library’s assertion of fair use or one of the Copyright Act’s other privileges is unreasonable,” Butler wrote. “This risk is compounded with streaming, which SOPA would subject to felony penalties even if conducted without purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain.”

In line with the LCA’s concerns, Butler asks that the amendments should be made in SOPA to decrease the scope of “willful infringement” and exempt “streaming and other public performances for noncommercial purposes.”

The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on SOPA for November 16.

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David Rapp About David Rapp

Associate editor David Rapp previously covered technology for Library Journal.