The House Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property will debate and consider amendments to Rep. Howard Coble (R-North Carolina) and Sen. Orrin Hatch's (R-Utah) Collections of Information Antipiracy Act.
The bill aims to protect the "brow sweat" and deep pockets of database creators and publishers, such as WestLaw, Reed Elsevier, and Lexis-Nexis.
But researchers, a variety of industries, and Net search directories say the act would give a select group of companies an unprecedented grip--on everything from usage rights to price setting--on the information they gather. Engineers, scientists, and product developers often have used free, published material to foster new creations.
From Web crawlers to medical journal articles, nationwide court rulings, phone directories, and stock quotes, electronic database operators typically don't own copyrights on the facts they catalog. Instead they profit from aggregating and updating data and then making it instantly available to paying customers.
With the proliferation of the Internet and CD-ROMs, which make it easier to copy information, database assemblers are lobbying for new safeguards for their current businesses and future ventures.
Coble's bill would prevent the extraction of all or a substantial part of a collection of information if the action would "cause harm to the actual or potential market" for the owner of the database. Violators could face a fine of up to $250,000 for each offense and up to five years in prison.
After fierce opposition by academic and industry groups, a similar proposal, known as the sui generis database treaty, also was rejected by delegates at the World Intellectual Property Organization's Diplomatic Conference in December 1996.
The legislation does include exceptions for nonprofit use, scientific research, education, and other "reasonable uses," but again only if the extraction doesn't "harm" the database owner's current or future business and is not used commercially.
However, some in academia and research are behind the Consumer and Investor Access to Information Act, introduced by House Commerce Committee chairman Rep. Tom Bliley (R-Virginia) today.
The bill would make it illegal to "duplicate a database collected by another person" or to sell a copied database in competition with the original collector. The protection doesn't apply to future business ventures and makes room for competitors to collect the same information through other means.
The Bliley bill "reaffirms the basic information policy of this country--that facts cannot be owned," the Digital Future Coalition said in a statement. "At the same time, the measure provides strong new protections against database theft."
The coalition represents academia and public institutions such as the American Library Association.