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EFFector - Volume 11, Issue 6 - Action Alert: Contact Representatives Again to Oppose Database Bill


EFFector - Volume 11, Issue 6 - Action Alert: Contact Representatives Again to Oppose Database Bill

                         EFFector Online Newsletter
   Vol. 11, No. 6               May 11, 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 20,
     * Latest News:
       Please call your Representative on Tue. May 12 to oppose
       anti-science, anti-journalism bill H.R. 2652. House "Collections
       of Information Antipiracy" bill, which 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, was scheduled to be voted on by the House last
       week. That vote was postponed, and is to take place Tue., May 12.
       Bill is on the fast track in the House and dangerously likely to
       be passed!
     * What You Can Do Now:
       Follow the directions below and call/fax your own Representatives.
       Ask them to oppose creation of copyright-like protections for
       public-domain information that cannot be copyrighted. Explain that
       no new legislation is needed - the database industry is more
       lucrative now than ever - and that this bill harms all citizens'
       fair use rights and undermines scientific and other inquiry,
       simply to give database companies a new "right" to own and control
       information itself.
   Free speech and fair use 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 12, 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 public-domain
   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, leaving us with 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 science, medicine, journalism,
     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.
   Note for non-US activists: You may wish to contact the House
   leadership listed above, but focus on the argument that WIPO rejected
   the approach taken by this bill because it was highly controversial.
   Perhaps suggests that passage of this bill will simply undo WIPO
   efforts to synchronize intellectual property law around the world, and
   further harm trade between the US and the EU (and other areas.) Avoid
   the argument that non-US interests, especially commercial interests,
   need access to information in American-owned databases (unless you are
   writing to describe a situation in which US interests are thwarted
   because your company or organization will be harmed by the bill, and
   you are working with US companies in some kind of joint effort). US
   legislators see the US as an intellectual property leader, in
   competition with the globe, and would probably like the idea that US
   monetary interests are boosted at the expense of foreigners.
   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.) An exception is that the principal sponsor can
   amend it at will (probably not for the better). A lot of big money is
   behind this legislation, so the danger of its passage is high.
   Concerns that it would undermine science were enough to get the vote
   postponed last week, but this argument seems to have been insufficient
   to kill the bill. Congress needs to hear from YOU, and especially
   needs to hear from US companies that would be harmed by this
   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, Reed
   Elsevier, 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
   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. The terminology is vague enough
   that just about anything could be considered a "substantial part" (cf.
   court decisions regarding digital sampling of one song for sound
   effects in another; generally if the sound bite is recognizable at all
   it is considered "substantial" and still owned by the original
   creator. It is unlikely that we can rely on the courts to narrowly
   interpret this legislation should it pass.)
   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, the democratic political process itself, and many other areas and
   avenues of inquiry about, and/or use of, raw information and facts.
   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.

   EFFector is published by:
   The Electronic Frontier Foundation
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