Update 4/1/2021: The legislation died in the Georgia House Rules Committee with adjournment of the legislature.
On March 26, the Authors Guild, along with the Association of Booksellers and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, submitted a memorandum to key Georgia legislators protesting a bill that would violate authors’ constitutional right to free expression and their rights under federal copyright law. Georgia Senate Bill 226 would establish a required procedure for all local boards of education to review any complaints they receive claiming that materials made available to students are “harmful to minors.” If the school principal determines that any materials complained about are not to be “harmful to minors,” the materials would need to be publicly posted online for at least four years. These proposed requirements would be detrimental to copyright owners in and outside the state, as well as to Georgia educators and students.
Georgia SB 226 would effectively penalize authors for writing edgy and potentially controversial works that speak to youth, even though their works have been deemed acceptable by the school’s principal; it is also likely that principals would respond to future complaints by simply removing the books in question out of fear that that the enhanced (and free) public access to the books could be used to foment a public outcry. Further, the bill would in effect compel publishers to either grant what is essentially a compulsory license to local boards of education to make the works electronically available for free (which would in all likelihood negatively impact sales), or to refuse to sell their works to Georgia boards of education, which would also result in decreased sales and, in addition, would severely limit the range of educational materials available to Georgia’s educators and students.
Both the public access and licensing requirements were added to the bill only last week. It is clear that the bill’s impact on the copyright and free speech interests was not given due consideration. We hope that the bill will not proceed in its current iteration, and we will monitor the situation and continue to speak out as needed.