Public Access to Government Information in the 21st Century

Committee on Rules and Administration, Senate, Congress, United States

€ 10,85

It is not political or subject to censorship. For 101 years, since the landmark Printing Act of 1895, responsibility for the program has rested with the elected representatives of the people in the legislative branch. There is a depository library in nearly every congressional district to directly serve all types of users and local library settings. The conservative estimate is that 10 to 12 million American citizens use these libraries annually. The Depository Library Program continues to change to take advantage of electronic technology. Under the gpo Access Law passed by Congress in 1993, the public is getting a rapidly expanding list of publications delivered free-of-charge over the Internet. Users are downloading documents at the rate of more than 2 million per month. We are taking initiatives for a successful transition to a more electronic depository library program, and a congressionally mandated study Of this transition was just completed; copies are available here this morning. This program, serving the needs of a democratic society for an informed electorate, is more important today than ever before, but it is in real jeopardy because content is being bled from the program — first, a trickle; then, a steady stream — until the fundamental supporting principle of free, equitable access to Government information is itself in danger. Until recently, Government agencies generally focused attention on carrying out their missions. Publications and collections of information were predominantly the byproducts of their work. Few agency publishers sought to control access to or reuse of their information. Copyright on Federal information produced at taxpayer expense was prohibited. Information was in the public domain, available to everybody. But today, dangerous new precedents are being set. Government information produced by Government employees, at taxpayer expense, is being turned over to certain groups who are given exclusive distribution rights. These groups are establishing copyright or copyright-like controls.

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