June 25, 2003
Movement to Reclaim Public Domain Wins Congressional Support
Lofgren, Doolittle Introduce Eldred Act; Libraries Endorse
Washington, DC – U.S. Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) and John Doolittle (R-Rocklin) today introduced the Public Domain Enhancement Act, legislation that will ensure that abandoned works pass into the public domain so that others can preserve, archive, and build upon them.
"As one of the signors of our petition writes, this is the battle for the future of our past," said Lawrence Lessig, professor of law at Stanford Law School, and a chief supporter of the Act. “An extraordinary number of people have come together to ask Congress to help reclaim the public domain. We are grateful that Representatives Lofgren and Doolittle have heard those voices and begun the process.”
As described at http://eldred.cc, the Act would require American copyright owners to pay a very low fee fifty years after a copyrighted work was published. If the owner pays the fee, the copyright will continue for whatever duration Congress sets. If they do not, the work would pass into the public domain.
Also today, the American Association of Law Libraries, the American Library Association, and the Association of Research Libraries sent a letter to Congress expressing their support for the Act. The letter states in part, “It is difficult and costly for libraries to track down copyright holders of older materials.” According to the libraries, the provision of the Act that creates a database of copyright holder who have paid the Eldred fee will assist libraries by providing “a single database that could be easily and quickly searched to determine whether or not a particular work remains under copyright protection or is in the public domain.” This will allow libraries to continue their mission “to promote the advancement of knowledge by digitizing materials and preserving our history and cultural heritage for future generations.”
The libraries join a growing list of groups and individuals endorsing the Act. Earlier this month film directors and actors sent Congress a letter of support for the Act. On June 20, Archivists sent one as well. And on June 3rd, citizens launched an online Petition to Reclaim the Public Domain, urging Members of Congress to support the Act.
"There is a wide range of groups and individuals who are joining this campaign to urge Congress to balance copyright protection with respect for the public domain," said Lessig. "This bill would unlock the vast potential of the Internet to lower the cost of access to information and to enable creativity.”
“Every day support for preserving our history and culture grows,” said Lauren Gelman, an attorney who is managing the campaign to pass the Public Domain Enhancement Act. “Over 15,000 people have signed the Petition to Reclaim the Public Domain. These are citizens who want Congress to know they care, and they vote.”
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