Overhype

by Mike Masnick




Can't Use The Name Of The Library Of Congress When Doing What It Should Be Doing

from the what's-a-little-competition? dept

We've been impressed with Jim Harper's Washington Watch site since it launched last year. The site helps track how much various legislation proposals would cost people. Recently, Harper added a really useful feature: a wiki attached to each piece of proposed legislation where people could express reasons for and against each piece of legislation. It's a good idea, and shows how participatory democracy can work better by actually encouraging some amount of actual participation (shocking idea, there). Unfortunately, not everyone was thrilled with the idea. In announcing it, Harper pointed out that Washington Watch could be a better way to follow and understand new legislative proposals than the Library of Congress' own THOMAS system. Apparently, the Library of Congress took offense at this and demanded that Harper stop using its name. Harper is no stranger to intellectual property issues, since his day job is Director of Information Policy at the Cato Institute (where he organized last year's copyright conference at which I spoke). He told the Library of Congress that there seemed no good reason to stop using the name, at which point the Library of Congress trotted out Library of Congress Regulation 112 which says: "the use of the Library's name, explicitly or implicitly to endorse a product or service, or materials in any publication is prohibited, except as provided for in this Regulation." Of course, Harper isn't using the Library of Congress' name to endorse anything. He's using it to show why the Library of Congress isn't doing everything it should be doing. In the meantime, this whole dustup is on Slashdot, meaning that the Library of Congress' attempt to keep Washington Watch quiet just got a lot more attention -- so that everyone can compare the two sites for themselves. If the Library of Congress had just ignored the issue, we'd bet that Washington Watch would have a lot less traffic today. Sounds like the Library of Congress has just discovered the Streisand Effect. Maybe they should focus on improving their system, rather than worrying that someone else is using their name and encouraging them to do a better job.

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  • identicon
    Chronno S. Trigger, 9 May 2007 @ 7:27am

    Thanks

    Never knew about that site before. Thanks for pointing it out. :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Tora1188, 9 May 2007 @ 7:42am

    Yeah, me too... and to think I actually USE the THOMAS system...

    not anymore...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Alan, 9 May 2007 @ 8:21am

    Interesting how these government organizations have all these strange laws to protect themselves...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Davin Peterson, 9 May 2007 @ 8:23am

    The Library of Congress has launched their own blog at http://www.loc.gov/blog/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Matt Bennett, 9 May 2007 @ 8:28am

    Um, is a "Library of Congress Resolution" binding on anyone other than the Library of Congress? I don't think so.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2007 @ 8:35am

    Isn't weird how we, the people, own then government yet some how we can't use out freedom of speech to include the word "Library of Congress" to critique them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    mike allen, 9 May 2007 @ 9:19am

    they all the same

    our government just tried to stop our freedom of information act (UK) from being used to get information from................. the government

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 May 2007 @ 9:34am

    "Of course, Harper isn't using the Library of Congress' name to endorse anything. He's using it to show why the Library of Congress isn't doing everything it should be doing."

    Can someone explain how saying your product is better than someone else's is not endorsing your product?

    "Harper pointed out that Washington Watch could be a better way to follow and understand new legislative proposals than the Library of Congress' own THOMAS system."

    While the LoC isn't endorsing Washington Watch, Harper is endorsing his product using the Library's name..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      ChurchHatesTucker, 9 May 2007 @ 10:44am

      Re:

      "Can someone explain how saying your product is better than someone else's is not endorsing your product?"

      Are you honestly confused by the difference b/t saying that your product is better than the someone else's product, and saying that they endorse your product?

      You must have a heck of a time shopping for a car.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Dosquatch, 9 May 2007 @ 11:03am

      Re:

      Can someone explain how saying your product is better than someone else's is not endorsing your product?

      Sure - it's like the Pepsi Challenge. Pepsi is free to use Coke's name and image in advertisements for their own product along with the phrase, "9 out of 10 people who took the challenge preferred Pepsi to Coke", and as long as everything they say is true (meaning no ad hoc smear statements) it's fair use. This does not mean that Coke endorses Pepsi, nor does it mean that Pepsi is claiming Coca Cola as an endorser.

      But that's advertisement. You'd have to take the statements made by Washington Watch seriously sideways to construe it as advertisement... it is merely criticism. That WW uses its own system as a point of comparison to highlight where THOMAS falls down does not make it less so.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Reply to Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2007 @ 7:54am

      Re:

      I know this is a trademark issue, but Copyright is also at stake. One is allowed to quote another source (i.e. the Library of Congress) in order to further academic debate.

      It would appear that what they are talking about is how to best track legislation using technology. That is an issue under debate. If the Library of Congress has a system that does this, it is one of the comparisons that will be made and it is valid to use their name.

      Instead of wining about being criticized, they need to get busy and improve what they do.

      By the way, I am not anti-government or anti-libraries. Instead, I am a librarian who believes that we can always improve what we do, as there is so much innovation taking place on a constant basis, that opportunities change seemingly overnight. Also - as as suppporter of Open Government and Open Access (and know that most librarians are also so inclined), I am appauled that they would try to censor debate. Shame on them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Devil's Advocate, 9 May 2007 @ 10:21am

    "If the Library of Congress had just ignored the issue, we'd bet that Washington Watch would have a lot less traffic today. "

    I bet LoC's THOMAS got a lot more traffic today as well...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    SailorRipley, 9 May 2007 @ 12:19pm

    probably

    ...but only today, since I'm sure a lot of people did the comparison test for themselves and came to the same conclusion

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mr. Magoo, 9 May 2007 @ 12:51pm

    Good grief

    That's some headline.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    James Stevens, 9 May 2007 @ 8:34pm

    xD

    I think I'll start using Washington Watch now, didn't even know it existed.

    Sure, THOMAS will get more hits now but people will realize how much better WW is. Streisand Effect strikes again... you'd think people would catch on by now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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