Friday, July 28, 2006

DOPA - Opiate for the Uninformed

Aptly acronymed bill DOPA passed the US House of Representatives yesterday with a vote of 410-15. What a disaster. If you've forgotten what this legislation proposed..."To amend the Communications Act of 1934 to require recipients of universal service support for schools and libraries to protect minors from commercial social networking websites and chat rooms."

Here's how "social networking websites" are defined:
(i) is offered by a commercial entity;
(ii) permits registered users to create an on-line profile that includes detailed personal information;
(iii) permits registered users to create an on-line journal and share such a journal with other users;
(iv) elicits highly-personalized information from users; and
(v) enables communication among users.

Well, that would describe Amazon, Open WorldCat, any blogging software, Second Life and so on and so on.

The large vote in favour of the Bill suggests two main things to me: political expediency and ignorance (of the Ted Stephens sort). DOPA still has to pass the Senate, but I hold no hope of it being defeated there.

Links to comments here (this site includes a link to contact your sentators), here, here and here.


chrystie said...


SOLINET Library said...

Utterly amazing. Do you think they even talked to librarians about this? And if so, who?

Jack Stephens said...

As you note, part of the law's definition of a "social networking website" is that it be "offered by a commercial entity."

The "About OCLC" page states, "OCLC Online Computer Library Center is a nonprofit, membership, computer library service and research organization [...]"

I wonder if you could explain how you read a law explicitly limited to "commercial entities" as describing a service (Open WorldCat) offered by the self-described "nonprofit" OCLC?

feistylibrarian said...

they heard but they didn't listen - so much could fall under this umbrella - watch out 'brary 2.0

Catalogablog said...


I'm not sure of the legal aspectes of the term "commercial entity" but OCLC does engage in commerce by exchanging services for money. It is a business. It could very well meet that requirement unless there is a specific legal definition that exempts non-profits.

Jack Stephens said...

David, nonprofit "business" is too creative by half. The Compact Oxford Dictionary defines "commercial" as "making or intended to make a profit."

Anonymous said...

I don't know about OCLC and the non-profit issue, but what about other sites that allow for discussion, such as yahoo groups, (aka usenet), amazon, or blog sites in general?

Jonathan Kelley said...

Jack Stephens, the link you pointed to has your definition as the SECOND definition of "Commerical." The first is simply "concerned with or engaged in commerce," commerce being defined as "the activity of buying and selling, especially on a large scale."

More to the point, the bill doesn't actually define who will be targetted, instead leaving that up to a commission appointed by the FCC chair.

"Four of such members shall be representative of the private sector and four of such members shall be representative of the Commission, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Crimes against Children Research Center, school boards, and primary and secondary school educators, respectively."

No librarians. Shocking.

Jack Stephens said...

My question was directed to the writer of the post, and at this point I will take her silence as my answer. If OCLC is a "commercial social networking website," then I'm the Wizard of Oz.

Anonymous said...

Jack: my silence was called "the weekend." This post was not about OCLC's status as a 501(3)c entity: it was about DOPA. I am not going to engage in a discussion on the semantics of "commercial" as it relates to OCLC here (not qualified, not inclined) Other than trying to raise a debate, what was your point about DOPA?
I notice you do not allow comments on your blog....

Jack Stephens said...

Alane, I apologize for my snippy comment. I challenged your assertion, and you refuse to discuss it. So, it seems at least we're in agreement on the value of comments.

mdoneil said...

Why do you feel the need to lie about the legislation? It certainly is clear that Open WorldCat or anything else done by OCLC would be exempt from the law were it enacted.

I think it is a dopey law, but then again I think e-rate is nonsense too. I'd rather pay my taxes locally for local services than filter it through innumerable layers.

Filtering is a local issue decided based upon the desires of the community which the library serves. If the library wants the e-rate money they filter, if not they don't. The public library at which I was most recently employed did not filter nor get e-rate money. It was simply not worth the bother for a few thousand dollars.

However filters are not something to be debated at the national level, they are purely a local function as the community standards differ from place to place. Just as a test for obscenity must be a local decision, so must filtering.

Librarians in public service must indeed remember that they don't make the rules the public they serve does. While we as librarians must be able to explain the issues at hand and identify the challenges each option presents it is up to those who fund the library - the taxpayers, to decide either through the library board or through direct input from the citizens themselves.

Your comment that it could block Open WorldCat is disingenuous at best, and a lie designed to inflame librarians - which it has done as that nonsense has been repeated at several other librarians' blogs.

It would be nice if librarians such as you could think before they write so as not to make the entire profession look like lunatics. The ALA already does a wonderful job of that, and they certainly don't need any help.

Ask your neighbours, ask any parents if they want their library to block commercial sites where children can exchange information - pictures, email addresses telephone numbers, home addresses - with unknown persons and I doubt any one will tell you they don't want them restricted.

That is why they are called children rather than adults; they do not have the maturity to realize that the 45 year old man pretending to be 17 who wants to meet for ice cream is really a pervert. Unfortunately often adults don't either but we as a society have no burden to shield adults from their own naiveté.

So is this legislation crap? I think so. Is it crap because it might block some website I like? No not really. It is crap because this is a local decision, not something that should be addressed from on high. Crying wolf does nothing to support a reasoned argument against the law it just makes you look either stupid or that you are pandering to the knee jerk reputation of librarians when they hear that something might keep someone from seeing something no matter how repugnant.

Librarians choose librarianship to serve their patrons, and they must remember that it is the patrons who make the rules, even if by proxy through a library board. If you want to serve the patrons go right ahead. If you want to stamp out censorship and enforce Human Rights around the world join the Armed Services.

Anonymous said...

I agree with mdoneil 100%. Most smart non-librarians (patrons!) think we librarians are ridiculous for getting freaked out over things like DOPA. It gives the profession a bad name. No specifics have been mentioned yet about this law, so why don't we wait and see what happens before getting our undies in a bundle? You might say that then it will be too late, but come on, what are we going to do about it right now? And if patrons want it, why should we argue against it? It is incredibly arrogant for librarians to think they can dictate what patrons should or should not want.

Anonymous said...

"It is incredibly arrogant for librarians to think they can dictate what patrons should or should not want." Isn't that why we should oppose legislation such as DOPA, which regulates what patrons can view on library computers?

Alice said...

More press on DOPA from Internet Week.

mdoneil said...

Wow, Stephen you miss the point entierly.

It is arrogant that librarians should dictate what patrons should or should not want.

By telling patrons the DOPA is the root of all evil you are doing just that.

As librarians we should neither oppose nor endorse legislaton but provide the facts (not hyperbole like blocking WorldCat) and allow the community to decide.

Did you become a librarian to serve the patron, or to advance your political agenda? Does your doctor tell you how to vote? Your CPA? Your grocer?

Personally you can write your elected officials, have meetings in your home, go to community events but to suggest that doing that as a librarian, and collectively with other librarians seems to me to be unethical.

"Vote for Proposition 70001", says your doctor, "Or you will die of a horrible disease next week." Or, "DOPA is horrible and the Internet will be closed if you don't call your representative," from a librarian. I can't see much difference.

Anonymous said...

The fact that an activity is offered by a non-profit does not mean that it escapes the definiton of commercial activity. In fact, many non-profits carry out activities that are considered to be commercial in nature. The IRS recognizes that non-profits engage in commercial activity. See:

Is Jack Stephens a lawyer? Does he know what he's talking about? Before he trots out his dictionary definitions and engages in unsubstantiated attacks, maybe he should do a little research first.

Anonymous said...

"It certainly is clear that Open WorldCat or anything else done by OCLC would be exempt from the law were it enacted."

Says who? The law doesn't say that it will be limited to commercial web sites. It only says that the FCC shall consider the extent to which a web site is offered by a commercial entity in creating the rules that will govern social networking web site. It doesn't preclude the FCC from promulgating rules that could impact non-profit and non-commercial web sites.

It would be odd for the FCC to create rules to block access to commercial social networking web sites and allow access to non-commercial social networking web sites when the sites would, according to Congress, pose the same threat to children. If the intent is to protect the children, aren't non-commercial sites that allow chat just as much a threat to children?

Jack Stephens said...

The law doesn't say that it will be limited to commercial web sites.

Excuse me: the phrase the laws uses is "commercial social networking website."

But who cares what anonymous commenters think?

mdoneil said...

If you think that anything OCLC does would be blocked at libraries -remember this legislation have a very specific application- you are so far off the mark as to be laughable.

I don't know if Jack Stephens has a law degree, but I do. If Clinton can argue about the meaning of the word 'is' I am certain the crack team of government lawyers wrote this legislation in such a way as to exempt non-offending web sites.

Why don't you try reading the text of the proposed legislation before jumping to conclusions. The sky is not falling.

Oh, and have the guts to post under your own name.

Anonymous said...

"Excuse me: the phrase the laws uses is 'commercial social networking website.'"

What is your point? It's already been shown that non-profits can engage in commercial activity so OCLC's activities would be considered coming from a "commercial social networking website". Nowhere in the law does it restrict the scope of the law. The FCC can draft regulations that make it apply to both commercial and non-commercial web sites.

Jack Stephens said...

What is your point?

That a tax-exempt, nonprofit Web site is by definition not "commercial," as stipulated right in the law's language, if you'd care to read it.

Not that this hasn't been entertaining.

Anonymous said...

Time for you to take some remedial business law classes. OCLC engages in commercial activity and that makes their web sites commercial in nature. Last time I checked, OCLC charges for most of the services it provides. That makes those activities commercial transactions. Or are you going to show us how people paying to use OCLC's services isn't really a commercial transaction?