Friday, August 26, 2011

The United States of Emergency

It’s been a wild week for weather around Duke Law. On Tuesday afternoon, the Southeast was rocked by a rare 5.8-magnitude earthquake, which rattled our library windows and library users alike, but caused no lasting problems in this area (although our nation’s capital, closer to the quake’s epicenter in Virginia, sustained some damage to national monuments). Now, North Carolina’s coast is bracing for a direct hit from Hurricane Irene, which is expected to make landfall on the Outer Banks today before heading toward New York City.

Currently, the effects of Irene here in the Research Triangle are expected to be comparatively minimal, although meteorologists predict a soaking rain on Saturday along with some high winds, which could cause flash flooding and power outages in the Durham area. Duke University is monitoring the situation carefully, and the Goodson Law Library will announce any emergency closures this weekend on our website. You can also sign up for Duke Alert emails and text messages at, which will send an instant alert if the University invokes its Severe Weather Policy.

In the meantime, you’ve probably heard a lot about “state of emergency” declarations in the news, at both the state and federal levels of government. On Thursday morning, North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue issued a state of emergency for counties east of Interstate 95, and on Thursday evening, President Obama signed a federal state of emergency declaration for North Carolina. Why the double layer of emergency orders? In a word: money. The President’s state of emergency declaration authorizes the federal government to provide disaster relief and assistance to the state in question. For an overview of the process, check out the helpful background information in the Congressional Research Service report, FEMA’s Disaster Declaration Process: A Primer (May 18, 2011), available online at

To learn more about emergency management and disaster relief, visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). To access the treasure trove of research information in CRS reports, check out the CRS Reports section of our guide to Federal Legislative History, or Ask a Librarian.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What to Know About the New Semester

Welcome to our new students, and welcome back to our returning students! The Fall 2011 semester is about to begin, and the Goodson Law Library is ready for the typical questions we hear around this time of year:

Are you ever open later than 5:00 p.m.? Yes! While the library is always "open" to Duke Law students (who enjoy 24-hour access with their DukeCards), the library service desk will resume evening and weekend hours on Sunday, August 21. See the Hours & Directions page for information. Staffing hours vary a bit across the three service points (Circulation/Reserve, Reference, and Computing Help), but generally the desk will be staffed until 9 p.m. on weeknights, 5:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 6:00 or 9:00 p.m. on Sundays (depending on the service point).

Does the library have copies of my textbooks on Reserve? Maybe! Historically, the library's textbook collection has been the "luck of the draw;" we always buy extra copies of casebooks authored by our faculty, but other textbooks were less dependable presences in our collection. This year, we’re purchasing a copy of every 1L textbook and will place them on reserve, where they can be borrowed for 4 hours at a time, or overnight if borrowed with less than 4 hours before the Circulation/Reserve desk closes. 2L and 3L course textbooks may also be on reserve in some cases. To locate a particular title, search the Duke Libraries' online catalog and visit the Circulation/Reserve desk for assistance.

Where can I find course supplements and study aids? The library buys a number of popular law school study aid series, like Examples & Explanations, the "Understanding..." series, and Nutshells and Hornbooks. Check out our Law School Success handout for a list of the most common study aids in our collection, and consult the online catalog for their locations.

When do I get my LexisNexis and Westlaw passwords? It depends. New transfer/exchange students should have already received an email with their Duke Law registration codes for the popular legal research databases (check your account). New international LLM students will receive their passwords on the first day of their Legal Analysis, Research & Writing for International Students class, either August 22 or 23. New 1L students will receive passwords at the beginning of the research portion of their LARW class, either September 5 or 6. Contact the Reference Services desk if you have questions about your LexisNexis and Westlaw passwords.

Can I take a tour of the library? We'll be glad to show you around. Scheduled library tours will take place during the week of August 22. JD students can sign up at, and international LLM students can sign up at The 30- to 40-minute tours will meet at the library’s service desk, and will cover common questions from new students about library collections, printing and other technology, and study space.

How do I reserve a study room? The library's eight private study rooms can be reserved up to 72 hours in advance with a Law School NetID and password at Note that during the first few weeks of classes, many (if not all) of the rooms may be reserved during the day for On-Campus Interviews (OCI).

Anything else? Talk to the library staff for assistance with other questions, or make an anonymous suggestion in our online Suggestion Box.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

When Contracts Stop Being Polite, and Start Getting Real

With the explosive growth of reality TV over the last decade, it’s increasingly likely that you already know someone who has participated in one of the many competitions or candid programming out there (in fact, a Duke Law 2L and Simpsons superfan put in a winning appearance on a 2009 Food Network Challenge). But for the rest of us, we can only speculate about life behind the scenes...that is, until Monday night. That’s when the Village Voice Runnin' Scared blog published a copy of MTV's standard participant contract for its long-running Real World series, and highlighted the blogger's favorite clauses in the 30-page document. Among the explicitly-assumed risks: you might die, and it's not the producers' responsibility. Your new roommates could assault you (sorry, engage in "non-consensual physical contact"), and you have only yourself to blame. And if the show completely misrepresents your life story, unjustly casting you as its major antagonist? Totally within their rights. Oh, and you’re also paying for your own long-distance calls on that miked house telephone.

Given these drawbacks, it's hard to imagine anyone willingly signing up for such a deal, but thousands of young adults still dream of being one of the "seven strangers, picked to live in a house" (if any intrepid law students still want to try before their 24th birthday, the show accepts applications online). In fact, many of the contract's clauses have appeared in response to events on past seasons, as outlined by the blog Jezebel. Avoiding potential liability is clearly a moving target for the makers of reality television.

Interested in researching more about the legal issues in reality TV production? Try a search of the Duke Libraries’ online catalog for subject heading for "Television--Law and legislation--United States" or "Artists’ contracts -- United States" to find titles like Hollywood Dealmaking: Negotiating Talent Agreements for Film, TV, and New Media, which provides a slightly less terrifying standard "Form of Reality Series Participant Agreement" as well as a chapter devoted to the genre. And as always, be sure to Ask a Librarian if you need assistance.

Monday, August 1, 2011

How Netflix Got "Borked"

July was a rough month for Netflix, all things considered. First the film-subscription service announced a radical change to its pricing structure, which by September could hike some subscribers’ monthly payments by nearly 60 percent. The company’s July 12 blog post sparked enough bourgeois Internet outrage that created a parody “Relief Fund” with celebrity spokesman Jason Alexander.

Then came the corporation’s July 25 quarterly letter to its shareholders (PDF), which described plans for a “Facebook integration” tool which will soon launch in Canada and Latin America. But what’s the holdup in Netflix’s home country? The shareholder report explains:
At this point, we plan to launch this initiative only in Canada and Latin America, as the VPPA (Video Privacy Protection Act) discourages us from launching our Facebook integration domestically. Under the VPPA, it is ambiguous when and how a user can give permission for his or her video viewing data to be shared. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced a simple clarification, HR2471, which says when and how a user can give such permission. We’re hoping HR2471 passes, enabling us to offer our Facebook integration to our U.S. subscribers who desire it.
Suddenly, the mainstream media was re-examining a long-forgotten privacy law from 1988, and legislative history was a hot topic of discussion. So what is the VPPA? The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) maintains a helpful backgrounder, which explains the law’s unlikely origin in a Supreme Court nomination hearing: while the Senate considered President Reagan’s unsuccessful nomination of then-D.C. Circuit Court Judge Robert Bork, a local paper obtained and published the judge’s video rental records (reprinted at author Michael Dolan’s website). The Washington City Paper found nothing scandalous in Bork’s video rentals (aside from the sheer number, which prompted Dolan to quip that “if anything, Robert Bork ought to be nominated for Supreme Couch Potato”), but Congress responded with Public Law 100-618, which prohibits the disclosure of a consumer’s video rental or sales records without “informed, written consent of the consumer given at the time the disclosure is sought” (view 18 U.S.C. 2710 at the new U.S. Code beta site).

Certainly, the 1988 Congress did not anticipate the possibility of Internet-based DVD rentals and streaming services, and if Netflix were a web-only service, it is likely that the VPPA would not apply (as Inside Facebook points out, the web-only Hulu was able to successfully launch a Facebook app without concern). Netflix’s letter to shareholders notes a pending bill in the House of Representatives, H.R. 2471 (bill tracking report), which would enable sites like Netflix to obtain ongoing consumer consent to records disclosure on an opt-in basis, rather than requiring consent each and every time a disclosure is sought.

Certainly, Congress has had its hands a bit full with debt ceiling negotations in the weeks since H.R. 2471 was introduced, so only time will tell if the VPPA amendment will pave the way for a Facebook-Netflix union in the USA. But if you’d like to research the history of the VPPA, or track the pending bill’s progress, check out the resources listed in our Federal Legislative History research guide or Ask a Librarian.