Category Archives: Advocacy

Your Examples Needed of Circumventing DRM for Instruction or Research

Below is a request for community input from Carrie Russell of the ALA Washington office. Send Carrie any examples at or call 800.941.8478. Feedback sent by January 15, 2015, will be most useful.

It’s that time again when the U.S. Copyright Office accepts proposals for exemptions to the anti-circumvention provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and we need your examples to make the strongest case possible.


The DMCA (which added chaff to the Copyright Act of 1976) includes a new Chapter 12 regarding “technological protection measures” which is another name for digital rights management (DRM). The law says that it is a violation to circumvent (=hack) DRM that has been used by the rights holder to protect access to digital content. One cannot break a passcode that protects access to an online newspaper without being a subscriber, for example.

Here’s the problem: Sometimes DRM gets in the way of actions that are not infringements of copyright. Let’s say you have lawful access to an e-book (you bought the book, fair and square), but you are a person with a print disability, and you need to circumvent to enable text-to-speech (TTS) functionality which has been disabled by DRM. This is a violation of the circumvention provision. One would think that this kind of circumvention is reasonable, because it simply entails making a book accessible to the person that purchased it. Reading isn’t illegal (in the United States).

Because Congress thought lawful uses of protected content may be blocked by technology, it included in the DMCA a process to determine when circumvention should be allowed- the 1201 rulemaking. Every three years, the Copyright Office accepts comments from people who want to circumvent technology for lawful purposes. These people must submit a legal analysis of why an exemption should be allowed, and provide evidence that a technological impediment exists. The Copyright Office reviews the requests, considers if any requests bear scrutiny, holds public hearings, reads reply comments, writes a report, and makes a recommendation to the Librarian of Congress who then determines if any of the proposals are warranted. (The whole rigmarole takes 5-6 months). An exemption allows people with print disabilities to circumvent DRM to enable TTS for 3 years. After that length of time, the exemption expires, and the entire process starts over again. It is time consuming and costly, requires the collection of evidence, and legal counsel. The several days of public hearings are surreal. Attendees shake their heads in disbelief. Everyone moans and groans, including the Copyright Office staff. I am not exaggerating.

Ridiculous? Undoubtedly.

One would think that rights holders would just say “sure, go ahead and circumvent e-books for TTS, we don’t care.” But they do care. Some rights holders think allowing TTS will cut into their audiobook market. Some rights holders think that TTS is an unauthorized public performance and therefore an infringement of copyright. Some authors do not want their books read aloud by a computer, feeling it degrades their creative work. This madness can be stopped if Congress eliminates, or at least amends, this DMCA provision. Why not make exemptions permanent?

In the meantime…

The Library Copyright Alliance (LCA), of which ALA and ACRL are members, participates in the triennial rulemaking. Call us crazy. We ask, “What DRM needs to be circumvented this time around?” This question is hard to answer because it is difficult to know what library users can’t do that is a lawful act because DRM is blocking something. We solicit feedback from the library community, but response is usually meager because the question requires proving a negative.

For the last couple of rulemaking cycles, LCA focused on an exemption for educators (and students in media arts programs) that must circumvent DRM on DVDs in order to extract film clips for teaching, research and close study. To be successful, we need many examples, from you, of faculty and teachers who circumvent DRM to meet pedagogical goals or for research purposes. Right now, this circumvention allows educators to exercise fair use. BUT this fair use will no longer be possible if we cannot prove it is necessary.

For those librarians and staff who work with faculty, we ask for examples! We want to extend the exemption to K-12 teachers, so school librarians: we need to hear from you as well. Heed this call! Take a moment to help us survive this miserable experience on behalf of educators and learners.

Contact Carrie Russell at ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy at or call 800.941.8478.  Feedback sent by January 15, 2015, will be most useful.

(P.S. Additionally, colleagues at the Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Law Clinic of American University Washington College of Law, are seeking examples related to higher education and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). If you can help them as well, please do.)

Your net neutrality examples by Fri Dec 5

ALA and ACRL have been asked by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education to submit a column discussing network neutrality and its impacts on colleges and universities. We have begun drafting this based on our extensive work with the FCC on this topic. We also would welcome input from ACRL members as to why the issue is important to our communities and what is at stake, particularly at a practical level.

We’re interested to know what you perceive as the practical implications of losing net neutrality. How would academic libraries be affected by the end of net neutrality? What might things look like on your campus? How would teaching, learning and research be changed? Are there other areas of universities and colleges that would be affected that might be surprising?

Please send your examples or suggestions by COB Friday, December 5, to Kara Malenfant, ACRL Sr. Strategist for Special Initiatives, at

Add your voice to FCC public comment on network neutrality

From the ALA Washington Office District Dispatch blog:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has heard from more than 1 million commenters on proposed rulemaking to Protect and Promote the Open Internet, including from the American Library Association (ALA), Association for College & Research Libraries (ACRL), the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). But it’s not too late to add your voice in support of network neutrality.

September is a perfect time to add more voices from the library and education community. Working with EDUCAUSE, ALA has developed a template letter of support for our comments that you can use to amplify our voice. Click here (doc) to open the document, customize with your information and follow guidelines for submission to FCC.

ALA is meeting with FCC officials, and there is definite interest in our perspective as advocates for intellectual freedom and equity of access to information for all. Please consider strengthening our presence as a community in the public record.

The formal “reply” comment period of the FCC proceeding will close September 15, but “ex parte” comments will be accepted until further notice. The FCC hoped to deliver a new Order on network neutrality by the end of the year, but this could be delayed as the commission considers the broad public input and a range of proposals and perspectives.

As always, more background and related news can be found online. Stay tuned!

GPO would like ALA feedback

From the ALA Washington Office District Dispatch blog:

In response to the comments GPO (Government Printing Office) received in the FDLP Forecast Study, GPO is moving forward with possible changes to the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) and have asked for feedback from ALA. Below is the information that the Washington Office received from Mary Alice Baish, Superintendent of Documents. If this is something that you have an interest in, I would love to hear your thoughts!


In accordance with the findings and recommendations from the FDLP Forecast Study, GPO is moving forward to implement Goal 2.1 to “Allow more flexibility for Federal depository libraries to manage their depository resources and services.” Specifically, GPO has taken two steps that focus on the following strategic objective:

2.1.1   Review and revise, as appropriate, Legal Requirements & Program Regulations of the Federal Depository Library Program allowing for flexibility.

I would greatly appreciate your feedback on the first action, which is for regional depository libraries. A Superintendent of Documents Public Policy Statement was drafted that would allow regionals to discard tangible depository materials under certain specified conditions. Authority for this action originates in 44 U.S.C. §1912:

Designated regional depository libraries will … “retain at least one copy of all Government publications either in printed or microfacsimile form (except those authorized to be discarded by the Superintendent of Documents).”

The second action affects selective depository libraries. Effective August 1, 2014, item numbers 0556-C and 1004-E will no longer be required but rather will be optional. This rescinds Regulation 10 in Legal Requirements & Program Regulations. As a result, selectives will have the ability to become “all electronic” depository libraries. In recent years, these item numbers have been used to distribute titles GPO deemed important for all depository libraries. GPO will continue to use these item numbers for this purpose, but with less frequency.”

I would be happy to hear from units or individual members (however you would prefer to reach out) by August 20th. I will be submitting ALA’s response to GPO no later than August 29th. Please send your comments to

ALA, ACRL file network neutrality comments with FCC

Today the American Library Association (ALA) and the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt the legally enforceable network neutrality rules necessary to fulfill library missions and serve communities nationwide. The ALA and ACRL joined nine other national higher education and library organizations in filing joint public comments (pdf) with the FCC.

The joint comments build on the ALA resolution adopted by Council at the 2014 Annual Conference and align with the 2014 legislative agenda developed by ACRL. They also provide greater detail for the network neutrality principles released July 10 and suggest ways to strengthen the FCC’s proposed rules (released May 15, 2014) to preserve an open internet for libraries, higher education and the communities they serve. For instance, the FCC should:

  • explicitly apply open Internet rules to public broadband Internet access service provided to libraries, institutions of higher education and other public interest organizations;
  • prohibit “paid prioritization;”
  • adopt rules that are technology-neutral and apply equally to fixed and mobile services;
  • adopt a re-defined “no-blocking” rule that bars public broadband Internet access providers from interfering with the consumer’s choice of content, applications, or services;
  • further strengthen disclosure rules;
  • charge the proposed ombudsman with protecting the interests of libraries and higher education institutions and other public interest organizations, in addition to consumers and small businesses;
  • continue to recognize that libraries and institutions of higher education operate private networks or engage in end user activities not subject to open Internet rules; and
  • preserve the unique capacities of the Internet as an open platform by exercising its well-established sources of authority to implement open Internet rules, based on Title II reclassification or an “Internet reasonable” standard under Section 706.

The joint comments mark another definitive statement on behalf of all types of libraries and the communities we serve, but are simply one more step in a long journey toward our goal. There’s more to be done, and librarians can make their voices heard in a number of ways:

  1. Email to the ALA Washington Office (lclark[at]alawash[dot]org) examples of Internet Service Provider (ISP) slowdowns, lost quality of service relative to your subscribed ISP speeds, and any other harm related to serving your community needs. Alternately, please share examples of potential harm if we do not preserve the open internet (e.g., impact on cloud-based services and/or ability to disseminate digitized or streaming content on an equal footing with commercial content providers that otherwise might pay for faster “lanes” for their content over library content).
  2. Ask your community to support and/or adopt the network neutrality principles. Several people in attendance at the Annual Conference program on the topic suggested this, and the ALA Washington Office will develop and share a template for this purpose in the coming weeks.
1 2 3 23