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ABM takes postal reform concerns to Capitol Hill

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Several members of American Business Media journeyed to Capitol Hill last Tuesday as part of the group’s 2006 Washington Forum to express their concerns to Congress about postal reform legislation.

Both chambers have passed postal reform legislation, and House-Senate conferees are attempting to reconcile the two versions. ABM supports the Senate version, which would make it more difficult for the U.S. Postal Service to make postal increases above the statutory Consumer Price Index (CPI) cap. Currently, postal rates vary with the level of the USPS’ costs, and mailers are looking for more predictable rate changes.

“Probably the biggest impact of postal reform legislation on business publishers will be that rates are likely to increase every year by an amount roughly equal to the increase in the CPI, rather than by greater amounts every two or three years, as they have in the past several decades,” said David Straus, Washington, D.C., counsel for ABM and a partner in the law firm Thompson Coburn.

ABM agrees with the mailing industry that money for a pension fund for former members of the military who now work for the USPS should be supplied by the Treasury Department rather than the postal service, said Gordon Hughes II, president-CEO of ABM. The Bush administration is opposed to such a move.

ABM also supports the Senate bill's changes to the workers compensation system applicable to postal workers, which is designed to hold down costs by bringing the system in line with the private sector.

It’s anybody’s guess whether postal reform legislation will pass before this year’s congressional session ends. In the meantime, the USPS is expected to file a rate increase request this month based on its projected costs for the 2008 fiscal year, which begins in October 2007. There were rumblings at the forum that the increase could be at least in the mid-single digits or as high as double digits.

“It’s [the Postal Service’s] last shot at getting a big increase, and we’re going to fight them on it tooth and nail,” Hughes said. “Having said that, the postal service is prepared to offer deep discounts to business publishers if they get out of mailing in sacks and move to deep palletization and co-mingling.”

He added that ABM will take pains to educate its members on how to take advantage of the postal discounts and will create a DVD explaining how the discounts work.

Five separate groups, consisting of ABM members and government affairs executives from business publishers, went to Capitol Hill to express their concerns about postal reform. Hughes said the groups met with, among others, Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.), Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Hughes said each group was able to air its concerns, but that he could not gauge how much the meetings will influence the senators’ final actions on postal reform.

A key topic of discussion during an ABM meeting earlier in the day was the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law, which provides for the legal, nonlicensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author's work.

The fair use doctrine was thrust into the spotlight last September when the Authors Guild sued Google, claiming that the Google Print Library program constitutes “massive copyright infringement.”

The Google program involves scanning books from libraries and universities to make the texts searchable through Google's search engine. Google intends to sell advertisements on the search results pages.

Google temporarily halted the initiative even before it got hit with the lawsuit, which is now in litigation. The decision could have a huge impact on business publishers, said Michael Klipper, a partner in the law firm Meyer, Klipper & Mohr, which specializes in copyright law. “Anytime works are being copied, especially with a lot of products going digital, is a nerve-wracking issue for business publishers,” he said.

Hughes added: “What’s next? Magazines? Google is not a bad guy, but we don’t want them using our content. We need to keep an eye on that case.”

About two dozen ABM members participated in the Washington Forum.   

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