Copyright Challenges of the Day

Dorothea Salo

Dorothea Salo, Digital Repository Librarian at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and one of Library Journal‘s 2009 Movers and Shakers gave a stirring challenge to librarians on the biggest threat to libraries today.  Surprisingly, that is not money, but rather modern copyright practices.  Network neutrality is a major worry for her. We are on the cusp of losing the Internet, and a major reason involves copyright owners who consider the Internet a platform for piracy.  Today’s Internet does not care what is being sent over it.  Copyright interests want to make it care, and that should not happen!  The DMCA is threatening the Internet in favor of huge corporations.

Where are libraries intersecting with CR and how is it threatening them?  There are 4 major areas:

  1. Collection development. Physical books are perishable in a way that e-books are not.   The 26 checkout limit recently instituted by Harper Collins is a high handed and stupid approach. What is different about e-books is that there is no first-sale doctrine, in which the seller ceases to have control over an item once it is sold.  A recent case, Costco vs. Omega may have implications for the first-sale doctrine.  (Although that case applied to watches, it has been applied to the first-sale doctrine.) Because copyright design elements in books bought overseas do not apply in the US, we cannot legally import or lend them.:spacer:
    Another area related to collection development is the perennial serials crisis.  Copyright owners know that libraries will not have any money for subscription price increases, so they are desperately looking for other ways to replace those revenues. For example, Nature Publications tried to impose a 300% increase on serials prices at the University of California, which threatened that faculty would boycott their publications with the result that Nature Publications rescinded the increases.:spacer:
  2. Teaching.  Libraries are teaching organizations.  They believe that offering e-reserves is a fair use.  Several university presses are suing universities to prevent them from offering an e-reserve program.  If this is decided in favor of the presses, it will spread to all universities which will lead to terrified faculty and libraries.  This is really about the death of Fair Use, which copyright holders would like to extinguish.Other efforts by publishers are disturbing:
    • The STM Association’s Statement on Document Delivery would prohibit digital interlibrary loans across international boundaries, except by the publisher, which would give the US the most restrictive copyright law in the world!
    • If you bought an e-subscription to Harvard Business Review, you cannot put it in your course management system unless you pay an additional fee.  This happens because contract law trumps fair use, so you no longer have those rights.  Teaching gets much harder!
    • E-theses are popular with colleges.  But the American Chemical Society will not allow students to publish their articles in their e-theses because the articles are open access.  And if dissertations are available as open access, some publishers will not consider publishing them.:spacer:
  3. Digitization.  Some universities are not digitizing sound files because of copyright concerns.  So those files might as well not exist.  We have lost sight of the fact that digitizing something does not create a new copyrightable unit.  Orphan works are another large problem.:spacer:
  4. Preservation gets hard to do because of copyright.

Despite this gloomy picture, some good things are happening in libraries and there is hope.  Some universities have instituted open access policies, and new organizations like Unbound and Gluejar have proposed innovative ways to meet the costs of open access.  Librarians can do collective collection development on a global scale.  The HathiTrust has launched a major effort to identify orphan works.  And libraries are taking open access seriously in their own industry; College and Research Libraries is now an open access journal.

Salo closed with the thought that the day of the nice librarian is over:

  • When copyright holders act as enemies of all we value, we need to treat them as such.  We are in this game for fairness and for our users, and we do not owe publishers a living!  It’s not all about us.
  • If we think open access is important and want it, it is time to pay up.
  • We are not the copyright police and should resist all attempts to turn us into copyright enforcers!

Good luck to all of us, we are going to need it!

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and Conference Circuit Blog Editor

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