Intellectual Property and the Internet/American Library Association

The American Library Association or ALA is a non-profit organization based in the United States that promotes libraries and library education internationally. It is the oldest and largest library association in the world,[1] with more than 57,000 members as of 2017.[2] The Association has worked throughout its history to define, extend, protect and advocate for equity of access to information.[3] ALA membership is open to any person or organization, though most of its members are libraries or librarians. The official purpose of the association is "to promote library service and librarianship." Members may join any of seventeen round tables that are grouped around more specific interests and issues than the broader set of ALA divisions.

ALA logo

Political positions


The ALA advocates positions on United States political issues that it believes are related to libraries and librarianship. For court cases that touch on issues about which the organization holds positions, the ALA often files amici curiae briefs, voluntarily offering information on some aspect of the case to assist the court in deciding a matter before it. The ALA has an office in Washington, D.C., that lobbies Congress on issues relating to libraries, information and communication. It also provides materials to libraries that include information on how to comply with the law and how to oppose a law.[4]

Intellectual freedom


The primary documented expressions of the ALA's intellectual freedom principles are the Freedom to Read Statement[5] and the Library Bill of Rights; the Library Bill of Rights urges libraries to "challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment."[6] The ALA Code of Ethics also calls on librarians to "uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources."[7]

The ALA maintains an Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) headed by Barbara M. Jones, former University Librarian for Wesleyan University and internationally known intellectual freedom advocate and author.[8] She is the second director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, succeeding Judith Krug, who headed the office for four decades. OIF is charged with "implementing ALA policies concerning the concept of intellectual freedom,"[9] that the ALA defines as "the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored."[10] Its goal is "to educate librarians and the general public about the nature and importance of intellectual freedom in libraries." [9] The OIF compiles lists of challenged books as reported in the media and submitted to them by librarians across the country.[11] Its actions are not without controversy; for example, Nat Hentoff noted "An issue facing all members of the ALA is their leaders' shameful exception of the Cuban people's freedom to read."[12] Hentoff's characterization contradicts the ALA's official position on Cuba, which urges the Cuban Government "to eliminate obstacles to access to information" and expresses "deep concern" for political dissidents in Cuba.[13]

In 1999, radio personality Laura Schlessinger campaigned publicly against the ALA's intellectual freedom policy, specifically in regard to the ALA's refusal to remove a link on its web site to a specific sex-education site for teens.[14] Sharon Presley said, however, that Schlessinger "distorted and misrepresented the ALA stand to make it sound like the ALA was saying porno for 'children' is O.K."[15]

In 2002, the ALA filed suit with library users and the ACLU against the United States Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), which required libraries receiving federal E-rate discounts for Internet access to install a "technology protection measure" to prevent children from accessing "visual depictions that are obscene, child pornography, or harmful to minors."[16] At trial, the federal district court struck down the law as unconstitutional.[17] The government appealed this decision, and on June 23, 2003, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the law as constitutional as a condition imposed on institutions in exchange for government funding. In upholding the law, the Supreme Court, adopting the interpretation urged by the U.S. Solicitor General at oral argument, made it clear that the constitutionality of CIPA would be upheld only "if, as the Government represents, a librarian will unblock filtered material or disable the Internet software filter without significant delay on an adult user's request."[18]



In 2003, the ALA passed a resolution opposing the USA PATRIOT Act, which called sections of the law "a present danger to the constitutional rights and privacy rights of library users".[19] Since then, the ALA and its members have sought to change the law by working with members of Congress and educating their communities and the press about the law's potential to violate the privacy rights of library users. ALA has also participated as an amicus curiae in lawsuits filed by individuals challenging the constitutionality of the USA PATRIOT Act, including a lawsuit filed by four Connecticut librarians after the library consortium they managed was served with a National Security Letter seeking information about library users.[20] After several months of litigation, the lawsuit was dismissed when the FBI decided to withdraw the National Security Letter.[21] In 2007 the "Connecticut Four" were honored by the ALA with the Paul Howard Award for Courage for their challenge to the National Security Letter and gag order provision of the USA PATRIOT Act. [22]

In 2006, the ALA sold humorous "radical militant librarian" buttons for librarians to wear in support of the ALA's stances on intellectual freedom, privacy, and civil liberties.[23] Inspiration for the button’s design came from documents obtained from the FBI by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The request revealed a series of e-mails in which FBI agents complained about the "radical, militant librarians" while criticizing the reluctance of FBI management to use the secret warrants authorized under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act.[24]


The ALA "supports efforts to amend the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and urges the courts to restore the balance in copyright law, ensure fair use and protect and extend the public domain".[25] It supports changing copyright law to eliminate damages when using orphan works without permission;[26] is wary of digital rights management; and, in ALA v. FCC, successfully sued the Federal Communications Commission to prevent regulation that would enforce next-generation digital televisions to contain rights-management hardware. It has joined the Information Access Alliance to promote open access to research.[27] The Copyright Advisory Network of the Association's Office for Information Technology Policy provides copyright resources to libraries and the communities they serve.

See also

  • Library Bill of Rights the rights of library users to intellectual freedom and the expectations the association places on libraries to support those rights


  1. "American Library Association". Encarta® Online Encyclopedia. Microsoft. 2009. Archived from the original on October 29, 2009.
  2. "Annual Report 2017" (PDF). American Library Association. 2018. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 18, 2019. Retrieved October 25, 2019.
  3. de la Peña McCook, Kathleen (2002). "Rocks in the Whirlpool" (PDF). Equity of Access. American Library Association Office for Information Technology Policy. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 3, 2018. Retrieved December 21, 2011. {{cite web}}: Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  4. "Advocacy, Legislation & Issues: Copyright". American Library Association. Retrieved October 25, 2019.
  5. "Freedom to Read Statement". ALA. Retrieved September 1, 2010.
  6. "Library Bill of Rights". ALA. Retrieved September 1, 2010.
  7. "Article II, ALA Code of Professional Ethics". ALA. Retrieved September 1, 2010.
  8. "Barbara Jones, Ex-Director at Wesleyan, Named Head of ALA OIF and FTRF". Library Journal. MediaSource, Inc. 2009-12-02. Retrieved 2010-09-01.
  9. a b "Office for Intellectual Freedom". ALA. Retrieved 2010-09-02.
  10. "Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Q & A". ALA. Retrieved 2010-09-01.
  11. "Frequently Challenged Books". ALA. Retrieved 2010-09-01.
  12. Hentoff, Nat (2007-03-02). "American Library Association Shamed". Laurel Leader-Call. Retrieved 2010-09-06. 
  13. "ALA and Cuban Libraries". American Library Association. Retrieved 2010-11-26.
  14. ""Dr. Laura" Continues Criticism of ALA". Library Journal. MediaSource, Inc. 1999-05-10. Retrieved 2006-11-14.
  15. Presley, Sharon (2001). "Don't Listen to Dr. Laura". Free Inquiry. 41 (1). Retrieved 2007-03-08. {{cite journal}}: Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  16. "Text of the Children's Internet Protection Act" (PDF).
  17. United States v. Am. Lib. Asso., 201 F.Supp.2d 401, 490 (2002)
  18. "US v ALA 539 U.S. 194, 2003". FindLaw. Retrieved 2007-03-21.
  19. "Resolution on the USA PATRIOT Act and Related Measures that Infringe on the Rights of Library Users". ALA. 2003-01-29. Retrieved 2010-09-01.
  20. Cowan, Alison Leigh (2006-05-31). "Four Librarians Finally Break Silence in Records Case". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-02-07. 
  21. "FBI drops demand for information from Connecticut library group". Raw Story. 2006-06-26. Retrieved 2007-02-07. [dead link]
  22. McCook, Kathleen de la Peña (2011), Introduction to Public Librarianship, pp. 63-64. 2nd ed. New York, Neal-Schuman.
  23. ""Radical, Militant Librarian" Button". ALA. Retrieved 2010-09-01.
  24. ALA (2006-01-17). "ALA introduces "Radical, Militant Librarian" button". Press release. Retrieved 2007-03-07. 
  25. Nisbet, Miriam (October 2006). "2006 Copyright Agenda" (PDF). ALA. Retrieved 2010-09-01.
  26. "Re: Orphan Works Notice of Inquiry" (PDF). Library Copyright Alliance / U.S. Copyright Office. Retrieved 2009-07-12.
  27. "Open Access". ALA. Retrieved 2010-09-01.