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EFFector - Volume 11, Issue 4 - Immediate Action Alert: Contact Representatives to Oppose Database Bill


EFFector - Volume 11, Issue 4 - Immediate Action Alert: Contact Representatives to Oppose Database Bill

                         EFFector Online Newsletter
   Vol. 11, No. 4, May 4, 1998                   
   A Publication of the Electronic Frontier Foundation     ISSN 1062-9424
         1. SUMMARY
         4. BACKGROUND
   See for more information on EFF activities &
            The Electronic Frontier Foundation       May 4, 1998
   Please distribute widely to appropriate forums, no later than May 15,
     * Latest News:
       House "Collections of Information Antipiracy" bill would create a
       new property right in databases and make criminal many uses of
       uncopyrightable public-domain information without express
       permission from a database supplier. Bill is on fast-track in the
       House and dangerously close to passage!
     * What You Can Do Now:
       Follow the directions below and call/fax your own Representatives
       Ask them to oppose expansion of rights to database holders without
       clear proof that additional protections are needed and without
       explicit explanation of how fair use will be protected. Explain
       that no new legislation is needed, and that this bill in
       particular is an assault on the rights of all citizens.
   Free speech supporters are asked to IMMEDIATELY contact their own
   Representatives, as well as House leaders, and ask them to to vote
   against the database bill, H.R. 2652, expected to pass or fail on the
   House floor on May 5, 1998. This contact shouldn't take more than TWO
   MINUTES per office.
   Urge your Representatives to refrain from voting away your right to
   know and use plain facts because some companies demand special
   privileges to control and charge for the use of information.
   Feel free to make use of the sample fax and phone "script" below.
   (We regret that some readers, due to Net-related delays or for other
   reasons, may not receive this alert in time to act. Sometimes Congress
   moves quickly, and we have insufficient warning to issue an alert
   early enough for all readers to receive it in time.)
   See EFF's Contacting Congress factsheet at
   which provides links to places to look up who your legislator is if
   necessary, and to obtain their phone and fax numbers. Please PHONE
   first, FAX second. Time is short enough that some of the faxes may
   simply not make it in time.
   If you can spare a few extra minutes, try working your way down this
   list of House leadership, as well as contacting your own Rep:

 Party      Last Name, First Name      Voice Phone        Fax
   R GA/06 Gingrich, Newt             1-202-225-4501  1-202-225-4656+
   R TX/26 Armey, Richard             1-202-225-7772  1-202-226-8100+
   D MO/03 Gephardt, Richard          1-202-225-2671  1-202-225-7452+
   R TX/22 DeLay, Tom                 1-202-225-5951  1-202-225-5241
   D MI/10 Bonior, David              1-202-225-2106  1-202-226-1169
   R OH/08 Boehner, John              1-202-225-6205  1-202-225-0704
   R CA/47 Cox, Christopher           1-202-225-5611  1-202-225-9177
   D CA/03 Fazio, Vic                 1-202-225-5716  1-202-225-5141
   D MD/05 Hoyer, Steny               1-202-225-4131  1-202-225-4300

   (+ These are the most important to contact - call/fax them first.)
   House leaders are, respectively: Speaker, Majority Leader, Minority
   Leader, Maj. Whip, Min. Whip, Republican Conference Chair, Rep. Policy
   Committee Chair, Democratic Caucus Chair, Dem. Steering Cmte. Chair
   If you would like to both call, and send a fax, this extra action
   would certainly help.
   For best results, try to put this in your own (short!) words, and be
   calmly emotive without being hostile.
   IF YOU ARE A CONSTITUENT (i.e., you live in the same district as the
   Rep. you are contacting) make sure to say so. For example "I am a
   constituent, and I'm calling/writing because...."
   from Personal Technologies Inc. of Austin. I'm calling on behalf of
   Personal Technologies to ask the Representative to...." Business
   interests carry a lot of weight with many legislators, especially if
   they are in the legislator's home district. Legislators also generally
   heed organizational voices over individiual ones. On this issue
   especially, legislators needs to hear a commercial viewpoint OPPOSING
   this bill.
     You: [ring ring]
     Legislative staffer: Hello, Representative Lastname's office.
     You: I'm calling to urge Representative Lastname to REJECT the
     so-called "Collections of Information Antipiracy Act", H.R. 2652.
     This bill is missing key definitions and creates new property
     rights in databases and the raw data contained in them, at the
     expense of ALL citizens' rights to know and use plain facts and
     information. This bill threatens fair use and freedom of speech and
     press. The database industry has not proven any need for this
     legislation, and it is simply yet another attempt to extend
     copyright-like protection to public-domain material that can't be
     copyrighted. The bill is not responsive to WIPO treaty language and
     it provides for excessive and injust penalties. There is no need
     for this legislation, and I urge Representative Lastname to REJECT
     H.R. 2652. Thank you.
     Staffer: OK, thanks. [click]
   It's that easy.
   You can optionally ask to speak to the legislator's technology &
   intellectual property staffer. You probably won't get to, but the
   message may have more weight if you succeed. The staffer who first
   answers the phone probably won't be the tech/i.p. staffer.
   See above for how to get relevant Congressional fax numbers. Please,
   if you have the time, write your own 1-3 paragraph letter in your own
   words, rather than send a copy of this sample letter. (However,
   sending a copy of the sample letter is far better than taking no
     Dear Rep. Lastname:
     I'm writing to urge you to reject the excessive intellectual
     property protections for database maintainers as contained in H.R.
     2652, the "Collections of Information Antipiracy Act." This bill,
     while being touted as as a piece of antipiracy legislation,
     actually makes most uses of pure information contained in a
     database illegal without prior permission from the database
     maintainer. The Act does not create useful exceptions for the fair
     use of information, and key definitions of crucial terms, such as
     "collection" and "substantial part" are missing. Furthermore the
     penalties called for - up to $500,000 and 10 years in prison - are
     excessive and injust.
     The database industry is booming and is quite lucrative for
     companies collecting and disseminating information. At present, the
     law requires database collectors to add some originality to the
     information collected before the collectors receive a legally
     recognized property right in the database. H.R. 2652 would change
     this, giving collectors property rights in raw information that has
     traditionally and properly been in the public domain. This assault
     on the public's fair use rights and freedom of speech and press
     will have dire consequences for journalism, medicine, science,
     political campaigning, and legal research. Additionally, the bill
     is simply not responsive in any way to the requirements of recent
     WIPO treaties. WIPO rejected such a "database giveaway".
     The database industry has not demonstrated a clear need for this
     legislation, and the public interest is harmed by giving these
     companies additional rights to control plain facts and information.
     H.R. 2652 represents an attempt by some information collection
     owners to fortify their markets through manipulating the legal
     system (instead of through fair competition and the addition of
     value) by raising fears of electronic piracy of information over
     the Internet and through new information technologies. Congress
     should wait until specific and definable market failures become
     apparent before acting to correct them, and even then not in a way
     as broad and vague as that attempted in H.R. 2652.
     My Name Here
     My Address Here
   (Address is especially important if you want your letter to be taken
   as a letter from an actual constituent.)
   For brief tips on writing letters to Congress, see: The most important tip
   is to BE POLITE AND BRIEF. Swearing will NOT help.
   H.R. 2652, the "Collections of Information Antipiracy Act" (introduced
   by Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC), expands the rights of database creators
   and maintainers, at the expense of YOUR rights to know and use plain
   and available facts and information. The bill has been put on the fast
   track, and is up for a "suspension rules" vote, by the entire House in
   which it cannot be amendmed to fix its flaws (but can only pass with a
   2/3 majority vote.) A lot of big money is behind this legislation, so
   the danger of its passage is high.
   The bill, the latest in a long series of efforts by certain commercial
   interests to extend copyright-like protections to that which belongs
   to the public and cannot be copyrighted, authorizes enormous civil and
   criminal penalties (up to $250,000 and/or 5 years in prison for a
   first offense; $500,000 and/or 10 years in prison for subsequent
   convictions) against anyone who uses uncopyrightable, public domain
   data collected in a database without the express consent of the
   company that controls that database.
   The Act, backed by major database maintainers such as Microsoft and
   West Publishing, is designed to create a new crime against those who
   extract or commercially use a "substantial part" of a collection of
   information gathered, organized or maintained by another person
   "through a substantial investment of money or other resources" so as
   to harm the data collector's "actual or potential" market for a
   product or service that incorporates that collection of information.
   The main problem with the bill is that key terms are either not
   defined or are poorly defined, leaving huge loopholes that render
   literally all information, data, and facts vulnerable under the Act.
   For example, even though the bill is titled the "Collections of
   Information Antipiracy Act," the term "collection" is not defined.
   "Substantial part" is not defined. And "information" is defined as
   "facts, data, works of authorship, or any other intangible material
   capable of being collected and organized in a systematic way," an
   extremely broad definition that could include just about anything! The
   legislation amounts to a roundabout form of censorship that could
   severely harm journalism, medicine, scientific inquiry, academia,
   consumer watchdogging, the Freedom of Information Act, and many other
   areas and avenues of inquiry about and use of raw infomration.
   Unfortunately, while Congress has been feeling intensifying pressure
   from the database maintainers to pass this legislation, they have not
   been hearing from those opposed to the bill. YOUR immediate action is
   needed to stop it from passing the House.
                               April 22, 1998
    Statement of Barry Steinhardt, President of the Electronic Frontier
       Foundation (EFF) on the Legal Challenge to the New Mexico Net
                              Censorship Law.
   The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) believes that SB 127, New
   Mexico's recently passed law banning the dissemination of material
   deemed "harmful to minors" on the Internet, is patently
   unconstitutional. This law represents a threat to freedom of
   expression, not only in New Mexico, but across the country. The EFF,
   as a content provider, and its members, would be compelled to either
   refrain from communicating constitutionally protected speech or face
   potential criminal prosecution. Because of this threat, we join today
   as a plaintiff in the challenge filed today by the American Civil
   Liberties Union (ACLU).
   The EFF was the first national non-profit group established to protect
   free expression, privacy and open access to information in the
   electronic age and has used the Internet to educate the public about
   civil liberties and legal issues as they arise in cyberspace. The EFF
   was a party to the successful challenge to the Federal Communications
   Decency Act (CDA) in Reno v. ACLU, decided by the US Supreme Court
   only last June. We believe the New Mexico law is equally defective.
   The EFF's public education efforts that would be affected include the
   extensive online resources on its web site. These resources include
   articles, court cases, legal papers, news releases, newsletters, and
   excerpts from public discussions related to the EFF's legal,
   legislative, educational, and advocacy work. Section A in SB 127, as
   it affects the EFF, is even broader and more censorial that the CDA.
   The term "harmful to a minor" is defined as any communication "which
   in whole, or in part, depicts actual or simulated nudity, sexual
   intercourse or any other sexual conduct." The Legislature did not even
   attempt to qualify this term by requiring that the speech be viewed in
   its overall context or that its value to minors or adults be taken
   into account. Because the definitions used in SB 127 are so broad and
   so unqualified, it would include everything from a web site's
   representation of Michalangelo's David, to the publication of the
   Biblical Song of Solomon on a newsgroup. It would certainly encompass
   information in many of the archives that the EFF maintains on its web
   Language purporting to limit the application of the law to those who
   "knowingly and intentionally initiate or engage in communication" with
   a minor cannot save the law. For most speakers on the Internet, it is
   not possible to limit speech to an audience that is known to be adults
   only. Laws like SB 127, such as the even narrower CDA, will inevitably
   and unconstitutionally restrict the speech available to adults, who
   will be reduced to receiving only that speech which is deemed suitable
   for children.
   As the Supreme Court said in _Reno v. ACLU_:
        "Given the size of the potential audience for most messages, in
     the absence of a viable age verification process, the sender must
     be charged with knowing that one or more minor will likely view it.
     Knowledge that, for instance, one or more members of a 100-person
     chat group will be minors and therefore that it would be a crime to
     send the group and indecent message and would surely burden
     communication among adults."
   In addition to the restricting Constitutionally protected speech, SB
   127 would also violate the Interstate Commerce Clause of the US
   SB 127 is not limited to purely intrastate New Mexico communications.
   It seeks to broadly regulate an inherently "interstate", even
   international medium. A recent decision from New York, American
   Library Ass'n. v. Pataki, 969 F.Supp. 160, 164 (S.D.N.Y. 1997) dealt
   with the interstate commerce issue. The ALA case dealt with a New York
   State statute that, like SB 127, sought to restrict speech on the
   Internet that was "harmful to minors", without limiting the geographic
   reach of its prohibition. In that decision, which the State of New
   York did not appeal, the judge held that the law was invalid because
   it was an "unconstitutional projection of New York law into conduct
   that occurs wholly outside New York; that the burdens on interstate
   commerce [by enforcement of this law] ... could paralyze development
   of the Internet altogether; and finally, that the Commerce Clause
   ordains that only Congress can legislate in this area, subject, of
   course, to whatever limitations other provisions of the Constitution
   (such as the First Amendment) may require."
   Given the fatal constitutional defects in the new law and its
   potential to damage free speech on the Internet, the EFF believes that
   it has no recourse other than to join in this case.

   EFFector is published by:
   The Electronic Frontier Foundation
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