Statement of Marybeth Peters
The Register of Copyrights
before the
Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property
Committee on the Judiciary

United States House of Representatives
106th Congress, 1st Session

March 18, 1999

Collections of Information Antipiracy Act (H.R. 2652)

Mr. Chairman, members of the Subcommittee, I am pleased to testify today on the Collections of Information Antipiracy Act. In October 1997, I testified on a prior version of this bill, H.R. 2652. At that time, I stated the Copyright Office's support for the enactment of new federal protection for collections of information, while identifying some issues with regard to how such protection should be formulated.

The basis for the Office's support was the need to preserve adequate incentives for the production and dissemination of databases, which are increasingly important to the U.S. economy and culture, both as a component in the development of electronic commerce and as a tool for facilitating scientific, educational and technological advancement. In our view, there was a gap in existing legal protection, which could not be satisfactorily filled through the use of technology alone. This legal gap was compounded by the ease and speed with which a database can be copied and disseminated, using today's digital and scanning capabilities. Without legislation to fill the gap, publishers were likely to react to the lack of security by investing less in the production of databases, or disseminating them less broadly. The result would be an overall loss to the public of the benefits of access to the information that would otherwise have been made available.

At the same time, we cautioned that the risks of over-protection were equally serious, since the free flow of information is essential to the advancement of knowledge, technology and culture. We saw the key to legislation as ensuring adequate incentives for investment, without inhibiting access for appropriate purposes and in appropriate circumstances.

Accordingly, the Copyright Office recommended the restoration of the general level of protection provided in the past under copyright "sweat of the brow" theories, but under a suitable Constitutional power, with flexibility built in for uses in the public interest in a manner similar to the function played by fair use in copyright law. Such balanced legislation, we believed, could optimize the availability of reliable information to the public.

As introduced, H.R. 2652 represented a constructive first step toward achieving this result. We recommended further work on the bill's concepts and language, however, in order to resolve continuing concerns and better calibrate the balance needed to maximize the public interest. We identified as requiring particular attention the scope of the permitted acts and exclusions, and the issue of duration.

During the course of consideration of H.R. 2652 in the last Congress, numerous changes were made. As passed by the House, the legislation incorporated several provisions responding to concerns we had identified, as well as many other amendments. H.R. 354 includes all of these changes, plus two other major additions: a clarification of the duration issue and a new exemption embodying certain fair use concepts. Over the course of the past year and a half, substantial progress has been made in developing and refining the coverage of the bill.

The position of the Copyright Office on H.R. 354 can be summarized as follows: We remain convinced that there is a need for new federal legislation to supplement existing law and provide adequate incentives for investments in databases. We are not aware of any changes in law or technology since my 1997 testimony that would warrant rethinking that conclusion.

As to the form that such legislation will take, we continue to prefer the misappropriation approach taken in H.R. 354 to an exclusive property rights model, for the reasons given in my prior testimony (a copy of which is attached). Moreover, in our view, the provisions of H.R. 354 represent a significant improvement over the provisions of H.R. 2652 as introduced. Many of our earlier concerns, and a number of concerns raised by others, have been addressed or ameliorated. Again, however, I stress that the sensitivity and importance of this subject matter demands great care in crafting a statutory balance. Several issues still warrant further analysis, among them the question of possible perpetual protection of regularly updated databases, and the appropriate mix of elements to be considered in establishing the new, fair use-type exemption.

The Threshold Question: The Need for Legislation

In formulating our position on H.R. 2652, the Copyright Office considered carefully the threshold question of whether there is a need for new legislation to protect collections of information in the United States. We concluded then that new legislation was desirable, and that judgment still stands.

As explained in more detail in my prior testimony, and in the Office's August 1997 Report on Legal Protection for Databases, existing bodies of law for protecting databases are all deficient in some respect. As to copyright, the Supreme Court's 1991 decision in Feist means that some of the most investment-intensive databases are no longer protected, while those that do embody the requisite minimal creativity are entitled to only a narrow scope of protection. Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991). Other bodies of law protect only certain aspects of databases, or protect them only in certain circumstances, and lack uniformity or certainty. As a result, database producers are vulnerable to the taking of substantial portions of the fruits of their investment in ways that harm their markets.

Since the 1997 hearing, there has been no change in the courts' interpretation of copyright or other bodies of law that has significantly altered the legal landscape or ameliorated prior judicial applications of Feist. The cases that established a narrow scope of protection for databases under copyright law continue to have precedential effect, and to govern the public's understanding of the boundaries of permissible conduct.

During the 105th Congress, this Subcommittee, the Committee on the Judiciary, and the full House of Representatives also recognized the need for legislation, as demonstrated by the passage of H.R. 2652 twice, once as a free-standing bill and once as Title V of H.R. 2281.

The Substance of H.R. 354

The bill before you today reflects the considerable thought and consultation that went into the evolution of H.R. 2652 in the last Congress. H.R. 354 incorporates the provisions of H.R. 2652 in its ultimate form as it passed the House the second time. Many changes were made in that bill during the course of the legislative process. These changes included adding new definitions; clarifying the core prohibition; amending the "permitted acts"; refining and expanding the exclusions; expanding the savings clauses for other bodies of law; establishing a set term of protection; and providing special protections against monetary or criminal liability for nonprofit institutions. In this Congress, two major changes have been added in H.R. 354 that address core concerns of user communities, one intended to avoid perpetual protection for dynamic databases, and the other to create a flexible defense for fair use-type uses.

I will not describe all of these changes here, but will discuss those the Copyright Office believes to be most important from a public policy perspective: clarification of the boundaries of the prohibited conduct; the coverage of the exceptions or "permitted acts"; addition of savings clauses regarding copyright and antitrust law; duration; and the special protections for nonprofits.

Clarifying the Boundaries of the Prohibition

As to the bill's general approach, H.R. 354 adopts the same misappropriation model as proposed in H.R. 2652. The Copyright Office continues to favor this approach, because it is more limited in its scope of coverage than an exclusive property rights model, and better tailored to the subject matter and the specific problem that has been identified. In addition, several changes made during the legislative process in the last Congress have clarified the boundaries of the prohibition in a beneficial way.

Most important was the addition of definitions for two of the terms used in the prohibition: "collection of information" and "potential market" (' 1401). In my prior testimony, I stated that "additional definitions may be advisable to clarify the scope of the prohibition . . ., but should not be included unless they can shed more light rather than create new ambiguity." These definitions meet that test; they serve to add precision and avoid potential overbreadth.

Definition of "collection of information"

A number of concerns had been expressed about the lack of a definition of "collection of information" in H.R. 2652 as introduced. The concerns centered on the possibility that many items that would not fall within a standard conception of a database might be considered to qualify as a protected collection. A history book or even a novel might qualify, since each collects and brings together facts, ideas and words. Moreover, virtually any material in digital form could be considered a collection of digits. The new definition should rule out the possibility of such overbroad interpretations. It appropriately limits protection to those collections that are made up of items collected and organized "for the purpose of bringing discrete items of information together in one place or through one source so that users may access them." By focusing on the purpose for which information is collected and organized, the definition excludes material brought together in order to communicate a message, tell a story, or accomplish a result. See H. Rep. No. 105-525, 105th Cong., 2d Sess. 13 (1998).

Definition of "potential market"

In my prior testimony, I supported the use of the term "potential" in delineating what type of market harm should be actionable. I stressed the need to give the term content, however, warning that "[t]he mere possibility that a use could be licensed should not be sufficient, or the term would become circular." I advised that courts could look to the producer's business plans as well as customary industry practices, as they have done under copyright law.

The new definition of "potential" accomplishes just that result. It defines a "potential market" as one which a person has current and demonstrable plans to exploit or that is commonly exploited by persons offering similar products or services incorporating collections of information. The increased certainty provided by statutory language giving guidance to the courts is a positive step.

Exclusion for network functionality

Another important change made during the 105th Congress was the addition of an exclusion barring application of the prohibition to information used to accomplish digital online communications (1404(c)). The Copyright Office supports this exclusion, which should ensure that protection for collections of information will not be extended inappropriately to functional network elements such as domain name tables and interface specifications, and thereby unintentionally impede the development and functioning of the Internet.

Appropriate Safeguards for Beneficial Uses

In my prior testimony, I noted the "substantial dangers inherent in establishing legal rights involving the use of facts," and cautioned that "[i]t is important not to inhibit or raise the cost of existing uses in the public interest . . . [and] avoid[] making access for legitimate purposes more difficult or expensive." This was one of the Copyright Office's principal concerns with the bill in its original form: were sufficient safeguards in place to ensure that that beneficial uses could continue unabated? Two expansions of the exceptions or "permitted acts," one made toward the end of the last Congress and one appearing for the first time in H.R. 354, provide important additional safeguards.

Broadening of exception for nonprofit educational, scientific, or research uses

As initially drafted, the exception for nonprofit educational, scientific or research uses served a primarily symbolic value. While its inclusion in the bill constituted a legislative recognition of the value and importance of such uses, the exception was written in such a way as to simply restate in the affirmative that such uses were permitted as long as they did not cause market harm (which would not in any event have violated the prohibition). When H.R. 2652 was incorporated into H.R. 2281, this exception (now '1403(a)(1)) was broadened to permit such uses as long as they did not directly harm the actual market--thus ruling out liability for indirect harm, or harm to a potential market.

The Copyright Office supports this change. In our view, it appropriately limits liability for nonprofit public interest uses to the only situations where such uses pose a serious and immediate threat to the producer's investment--i.e., where the user is a member of the market for which the database is produced, and utilizes it without permission or payment. While a producer may need protection against a commercial competitor's preemption of a potential market, such a broad field of application does not seem necessary for nonprofit scientists and scholars.

Addition of a flexible fair use-type exception

The most far-reaching change in the bill, added when H.R. 354 was introduced, is a new exception, entitled AAdditional Reasonable Uses@ ('1403(a)(2)). This section supplements the other, more specific exceptions, with a general, multi-factor balancing test turning on the concept of reasonableness. It permits an individual act of use or extraction of information for purposes of illustration, explanation, example, comment, criticism, teaching, research, or analysis, in an amount appropriate and customary for that purpose, if the act is reasonable under the circumstances. Four factors must be considered in determining reasonableness, relating to the commercial or nonprofit nature of the use or extraction, the defendant's good faith, the extent to which the defendant has added its own investment or creativity, and whether the plaintiff's collection was primarily intended for persons in the same field or business as the defendant. Finally, an outside limit of reasonableness is set: the portion taken from the collection must not be offered or intended to be offered in commerce and likely to serve as a market substitute for the original collection.

This exception has two particularly important applications in supplementing the coverage of the previous set of exceptions: as to nonprofit users, it can provide a defense, even when the activity directly harms the actual market for the database. In addition, it can provide a defense to commercial ventures for acts going beyond mere insubstantial uses, independent collection, or verification.

The Copyright Office applauds the inclusion of such an exception in the bill. In an area as important and delicate as this, involving legal restrictions on information, we believe the incorporation of a general, flexible defense is a wise policy choice. Like the fair use doctrine of copyright law, this provision can serve as a Asafety valve,@ avoiding an overly strict application of the law with potentially negative consequences. It allows courts to make judgments appropriate to the particular facts and circumstances, and recognizes that some uses should be permitted even if they do not strictly fall within explicit statutory bounds.

In my prior testimony, I described how many of the concepts of copyright fair use are incorporated in various places throughout the bill; this new exception adds another concept from the first fair use factor that did not appear in earlier versions. The authorized purposes all involve activities that build on the contents of an existing collection, and provide the public with new thoughts or insights. In that respect, they are similar to the "transformative" uses favored under fair use. See Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569, 579 (1994).

The new exception differs from the structure of copyright fair use, however, in that it is not entirely determined by a balancing of factors. Certain elements are established as prerequisites, such as the authorized purposes and the requirement that the amount be limited to that "appropriate and customary for that purpose." We continue to examine the mix of elements set out in the exception, their functions, and their relation to each other, and would be pleased to work with the Subcommittee on further shaping of the statutory language.

Amendments to other exceptions

Two other "permitted acts" were also modified in positive respects during the 105th Congress. The exception covering individual items and other insubstantial parts was amended by adding a sentence specifying that an individual item of information shall not itself be considered a substantial part of a collection (' 1403(b)). This clarification ensures that a single but important item contained in a collection cannot be interpreted to be a qualitatively substantial part of the collection, due to its individual value.

Finally, a concern we had expressed about the news reporting exception has been addressed. The exception now contains a carve-out, barring its application to a consistent pattern of takings of time sensitive information gathered by another news entity, for purposes of direct competition ('1403(e)). This language prevents the possibility that the type of activity held unlawful in International News Service v. Associated Press, 248 U.S. 215 (1918), would be sanctioned by the breadth of the exception.

New Savings Clauses for Copyright and Antitrust Law

In its original form, H.R. 2652 contained a general provision specifying that it did not affect any rights or obligations under other bodies of law relating to information. During the legislative process, additional provisions were added providing more detail about the relationship of this new protection to such bodies of law, including copyright and antitrust ('1405(c), (d)). The Copyright Office believes these new provisions are an appropriate and useful addition to the bill.

The provision on copyright states explicitly that protection under the new law is independent of copyright, and does not affect any aspect of copyright protection, including limitations on rights such as fair use, in any work of authorship contained in or consisting of a collection of information. The provision further specifies that no greater protection is provided to any work of authorship contained in a collection than would otherwise be available to that work, other than a work that is itself a collection (which by definition would receive the new law's protection against misappropriation). This language should serve to confirm that the scope of copyright protection for compilations or for works of authorship contained in compilations will not change.

The provision on antitrust law makes clear that protection under the new law does not limit in any way the constraints imposed by antitrust laws on the manner in which products or services may be provided to the public, including rules regarding single suppliers of products and services. This language addresses the "sole source" issue that has been raised in the course of debate. See Copyright Office Report on Legal Protection for Databases at 102-107. It ensures that relevant principles of antitrust law continue to apply to producers in governing how they can market databases that are the sole source of information. This provision should assist in preventing information from becoming unavailable to the public. To the extent that antitrust law may not adequately deal with particular conduct, further discussion may be warranted.


The second major change incorporated into H.R. 354 relates to the issue of duration. Under H.R. 2652 as introduced, the prohibition had no set term of protection. While this was theoretically consistent with the bill= grounding in misappropriation law, I stated in my prior testimony that further study was needed to determine an appropriate measure for how long the prohibition should last. During the last Congress, a term of fifteen years was added, in the form of a limitation on the period of time during which a lawsuit can be brought.

The Copyright Office supports the addition of such a definite term. Fifteen years of protection provides substantial incentives for investments in collections of information. It also has the advantage of being consistent with the term provided in the European Union, increasing the likelihood of obtaining reciprocal protection in Europe for U.S. database producers. See Copyright Office Report on Legal Protection for Databases at 49; article 10 of Directive 96/9/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of the European Union of 11 March 1996 on the legal protection of database (attached to Report as Appendix B).

In the amended version of H.R. 2652, the term began to run from the date of the investment that qualified the collection for protection. In H.R. 354, the starting point is instead the date that the portion of the collection extracted or used was first offered in commerce, following the qualifying investment ('1408(c)). In the view of the Copyright Office, this change is an improvement. Investments in producing databases generally take place over a period of time, and it will be difficult to determine the precise point at which the investment became substantial enough to trigger protection. Nor would members of the public have any way to ascertain the status and progress of the producer's internal business activities.

Moreover, under the earlier "date of investment" approach, if further substantial investments were subsequently made before the database was placed on the market, those new investments could trigger additional terms. It is therefore preferable to start the clock running on a date that is clearcut and publicly ascertainable. Again, this approach is consistent with that of the European Union, which measures protection for publicly available databases from the January after the database was first made available to the public. European Directive, art. 10(2).

Even with this new definite term, however, concerns remain about the possibility of effectively perpetual protection. This is because the investment that triggers the prohibition in the bill may consist of maintenance of a pre-existing database. Accordingly, where a database is updated on an ongoing basis, new fifteen-year terms will begin to run whenever the update entails substantial investment and is offered in commerce. In other words, protection may be extended indefinitely.

A new sentence was added in H.R. 354 to deal with this potential problem. It distinguishes between protection for the pre-existing database and protection for the updated version, clarifying that the fact that an investment in maintenance has resulted in a new fifteen-year term does not extend or renew protection for the pre-existing database itself. The public remains free to extract or use information from the pre-existing collection despite the continued protection for the later, updated version.

In our view, this sentence helps to avoid the specter of perpetual protection. It makes clear that the version of the database that has already been protected for a full fifteen-year term does not continue to be protected because of subsequent investments. Nevertheless, it does not completely resolve the issue. A practical problem remains: how does the user obtain access to the pre-existing version that can theoretically be freely used under the bill? If the database is in hard copy form, there may be no problem; the user can, for example, go to the library and use an old casebook. But if the hard copy is no longer available, or if the database exists only on-line and is constantly updated, it may be impossible to find and use a copy of the no-longer protected version. As a result, although protection is not perpetual in theory, it may be as a matter of reality.

The Copyright Office believes this issue merits further attention. During discussions in the Senate Judiciary Committee in the fall of 1998, consideration was given to the possibility of establishing a deposit system within the Copyright Office, in order to create a public record of databases for which protection has expired. While such a deposit system could be burdensome, and may have drawbacks as well as benefits, we are ready to work with the Subcommittee to examine this and alternative solutions.

Additional Protections for Nonprofit Institutions

Three provisions were added to H.R. 2652 that further insulate nonprofit educational, scientific or research institutions, and libraries or archives, from inappropriate or disproportionate liability:

1. Inapplicability of criminal provisions ('1407(a)(3)). Criminal penalties are not available against employees or agents of such institutions, when acting within the scope of their employment.

2. Remission of damages ('1406(e)). Courts must reduce or remit entirely monetary relief if the defendant is an employee or agent of such an institution, who believed and had reasonable grounds for believing that the conduct was permissible.

3. Deterrent against frivolous lawsuits ('1406(d)). If an action is brought in bad faith against such an institution, or its employee or agent, courts are required to award costs and attorneys' fees to the defendant.

These provisions should go a long way toward ameliorating any possible chilling effect on nonprofits' activities. A nonprofit institution acting in good faith, with the belief that it is engaging in permissible conduct, will run little risk of substantial penalties other than an injunction. And a database producer will have to think carefully about the grounds for a lawsuit, or be subject to potentially serious financial consequences.


H.R. 354 would establish consistent nationwide incentives for investments in collections of information, filling the gap left in the law in the wake of Feist. The bill represents substantial progress in legislative thinking, incorporating many positive evolutions from the initial form of its predecessor bill in the last Congress. These changes have added greater clarity and balance. The Copyright Office would be pleased to work with the Subcommittee to resolve remaining issues and concerns.