Manges Lecture Highlights Library Concerns with Digital Works

Columbia University Librarian James Neal told Manges attendees about his participation in a group whose rolewas to reexamine the exceptions and limitations afforded to libraries and archives under Section 108 of the Copyright Act, specifically in light of digital technologies
James G. Neal, vice president for information services and Columbia University librarian, spoke April 1, 2008 about the conflicting relationship between the interests of copyright owners and today’s libraries that use digital technology to transmit information. 
Neal framed his lecture, “A Lay Perspective on the Copyright Wars: A Report from the Trenches of the Section 108 Study Group,” around his recent experience as a member of the U.S. Copyright Office Section 108 Study Group.  Sponsored by the U.S. Copyright Office and the Library of Congress, its mission was to reexamine the exceptions and limitations afforded to libraries and archives under Section 108 of the Copyright Act, particularly in light of digital technologies.  Section 108 is part of the Copyright Act of 1976, which was amended in the Digital Millennium Copyright of 1998, but according to Neal, still does not adequately address digital technologies. 
The 19-member group was assembled in 2005, largely in response to concerns about the ability of libraries to avail themselves of digital technologies without violating the rights of copyright owners. Composed principally of librarians and copyright-owner representatives from the publishing and entertainment industries, the group submitted its report to Congress in March.
The group recommended that museums, like libraries, should be allowed to take advantage of the exceptions for the use of copyrighted works under Section 108, Neal said. The group also recommended that libraries and archives should be able to proactively copy and preserve “at risk” published materials in their collections, and should be able to copy and preserve publicly available Internet content and make it available remotely to users. Where the law currently limits libraries to making three copies for preservation or replacement, the group recommended substituting “a limited number as reasonably necessary. . .” to reflect the requirements of digital preservation.
Neal cautioned that while the group was able to agree on these recommendations at a general level, there was much disagreement on the details of how they should be implemented. There are many unresolved issues that would have to be worked out before legislation is passed.
Before taking the helm of Columbia’s library system in 2001, Neal was dean of university libraries at Indiana University and Johns Hopkins University.  He also has served on the boards of numerous national library organizations and has represented the American library community in testimony on copyright matters before Congressional committees.  He was also an advisor to the U.S. delegation at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) diplomatic conference on copyright.
The Section 108 study group recommendations, which can be viewed online at, reflect a compromise between libraries and copyright owners. Neal said that some recommendations reflect significant concessions to copyright owners.   For example, the recommendation that permits libraries to capture publicly available Internet content allows copyright owners -- other than government and political websites -- to “opt out,” with the understanding that the Library of Congress will be able to collect and retain all such material.
Neal reminded the audience that the Section 108 Group Study was just the beginning of the process to amend the law, and also questioned whether the group acted boldly enough with its proposals to adapt copyright law to new digital technologies. 
Neal finished by discussing the importance of preserving and expanding fair use, and he posited some questions about the fate of Section 108: “Can libraries remain free of liability?” and “Will new copyrights new copyright laws support learning?”
Todd Stone is a reporter at IP Law & Business Magazine.