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Spring Update From Washington, DC

As I write this, Dogwoods and Azaleas are the leads here in the spectacular show of spring flowers. Our Congress is back from its Easter vacation, but had a very busy season before leaving. And citizens are taking increasing notice of what’s going on in the Capitol. The In Custodia Legis blog from the Library of Congress reported an exponential increase in traffic on Congress.gov. On January 22, 2017 they set a new record of over 1.2 million site visits. The blogpost reveals more details about how and what users have been accessing. For example 52% of current usage is coming from mobile devices.

In April the Library announced new enhancements to Congress.gov. You can now download search results to a comma separated values file (CSV). The Quick Search forms now have a browse link to help you switch from search to browse. Also when you use the Quick Search “Words and Phrases” box, the default connector has been changed to AND, rather than OR. Plus the Query Builder has added options. “There are now selections from the drop down for “no word variants” and “case sensitive” for several items. And there are more distance options for the “is near” operator on the form.”

The Library of Congress continues to be in the news due to the Congressional push to remove the Copyright Office from it. Two bills are being rushed through Congress. H.R. 890, Copyright Office for the Digital Economy Act, would establish the Office as an independent legislative branch agency; while H.R. 1695, Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017, would make the position of Register of Copyrights subject to appointment by the President and confirmation by the Senate. H.R.1695 passed the House on April 26 and is now in the Senate. Other new copyright bills are also in the works. This AALL CRIV blogpost covers these and reactions to them.

Congress faces mounting opposition to these bills. A recently released report from the Office of the Inspector General of the Library of Congress, revealed what a Techdirt blogpost described as “stunning incompetence” in the Copyright Office. The Office spent 11.6 million dollars over six years on a failed attempt to update their computer system and then abandoned that effort last fall. Techdirt followed up with another blogpost revealing that the Copyright Office used a fake budget number of 25 million dollars as a “placeholder.” Some observers think that the new Librarian of Congress should have her chance to modernize the Copyright Office.

More recently Andrew Albanese, a Publishers Weekly senior writer, posted a story titled “Copyright Reform is Never Happening.” He concludes that “there is actually broad consensus that the Copyright Office is in need of modernization. Rounding up support for more resources and more attention for that mission shouldn’t be hard. Yet, here we are, in a contentious debate that threatens to further polarize stakeholders in our creative economy.”

But there is good news in the area of U.S. copyright history. George Washington University’s Burns Law Library announced that it has digitized over 2,000 pages of pre-1870s copyright records that never got to the Library of Congress. The library has made them available here. Joseph Felcone, a researcher who discovered and transcribed New Jersey records, was featured in a Library of Congress Blog posting.

The Government Publishing Office (GPO) announced a new beta version of GPO.gov that will be “a simple, mobile-friendly structure that connects the user in a more streamlined digital manner with GPO.” They also announced the release of “the digital version of the bound Congressional Record from 1961-1970 on GPO’s govinfo.gov. This release covers debates and proceedings of the 87th thru the 91st Congresses.”

There is also news from the Supreme Court of the U.S. Neil Gorsuch is now on the Court as the junior justice. Justice Elena Kagan gave some advice about being in that position. It involves serving on the Court’s cafeteria committee and answering the door during the Justices’ conferences. What she didn’t disclose is that, according to two researchers at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, female justices are interrupted much more frequently than their male counterparts. I hope Gorsuch will take notice of this when he’s on the bench.

I have covered some important items about government information in the legislative and judicial branches of the U.S. government. There is just too much going on in the executive branch to even try to address it. Just check your favorite sources to see the latest news.

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