On (Access) Copyright

I’m back to blogging, and this time it’s because I had an argument on the internet. I do not normally argue on the internet; I am a very non-confrontational person, and the maliciousness that comes out so easily in cyberspace (in myself as much as others) is kind of frightening.

Still, after reading this I joined in on what turned into a bit of a mean-spirited pile on. I don’t think we scored librarians any points, although I think we were clearly in the right.

John Degen, an author and Ontario Arts Council worker, wrote a pretty scathing post about the OLITA resolution passed at last Friday’s AGM, a resolution I was  proud to throw my weight behind (read it here).

I don’t think (surprise!) that Twitter did justice to the response I wanted to give so John, or whoever, here is what I have to say about your post, the OLITA resolution, and Access Copyright:

(But first of all, heck yes librarianship is political. I hope this doesn’t come as a surprise to too many people.)

Degen disputes several of the resolutions clauses out-right, without explaining why he disagrees that students are broke, supreme court rulings on fair dealing give more leeway to educators, or that Access Copyright treats technology restrictively.

He then goes on to say:

What the resolution rather studiously does not point out is that when schools, colleges and universities decide to forgo licensing for copyright-protected content, millions of dollars in legitimate royalty payments to Canadian writers disappear

There’s not a lot of room for argument here, because I dispute that Access Copyright represents “legitimate royalty payments.” The structure of Access Copyright is bad. They spend a lot of money to collect a lot of money, very little of which actually goes to writers.

At one point in our incessant Twitter squabling Degen argued: “last time I checked, Spacing expected their copyright to be respected.” Spacing is an urban issues magazine. I am the books editor for this publication.

(Just in case you were looking for an answer, John, yes, I do expect people to follow copyright law when using Spacing. But copyright is obviously nuanced…if it wasn’t we wouldn’t need to have too many discussions! If you want to photocopy an issue of Spacing and sell it…there will be a problem. If you want to photocopy an article for your class, the law has come down squarely on your side, regardless of how Spacing’s editors and writers feel about it.*)

Fair dealing is real. This doesn’t mean I can photocopy twenty copies of his novel and pass them out to students so that they don’t need to buy their own. That’s obviously an extreme example of infringement, but Degen’s arguments take everything to an extreme. In another blog post he argues that yes, teachers should have to pay 30 licensing fees if they want to teach a news article in their current events class. First of all, what would be the logistics of putting this sort of mind-numbing bureaucracy into action? If handing out a single newspaper article to your class is not covered under fair dealing–what the heck is?

Degen’s issue is with the law itself–he doesn’t seem to believe in fair dealing, period. And if that’s the case then his argument is really, “the legal system is bad and doesn’t compensate authors properly, so underfunded libraries should be threatened with law suits until they pay more for content they have already legally acquired.”

(But yes, he’s right that the OLA and OLITA websites do not do a great job of explaining our membership…so hi, I’m one of them.)

* My guess is that they would feel pretty good about it –they are heavily invested in urban advocacy issues, and the article might just generate some new subscribers!


8 thoughts on “On (Access) Copyright

  1. Thanks for posting this. My biggest worry in seeing the conversations that sprang up on twitter today is that those become a part of the public record and many of the people who come through after to see what all the hullabaloo was about find a bunch of librarians engaging in ad hom attacks on an author. While we grumble and apologize to each other in the wake of a day like today, what we said is out there and can’t be taken back….and I doubt anyone apologized to Degen in any case. [NOTE: I don’t count you among those who were doing this — I thought you remained quite cool and reasoned in the face of what was frankly a pretty unprofessional bit of ugliness.]

    Basically, if having passed that resolution leads to a bunch of spats like today’s, it was a dismal failure. It was a failure too if we think it stands as some sort of end unto itself. It was *only* worthwhile if it serves to start a real and civil dialogue about the relationship between authors, libraries, and the public. It needs to be open and above all it needs to be approached in a spirit of willingness to work together. Today we showed anything but that.

  2. Steve, I’m pretty tired of the “gloves always on” school of library advocacy. This is precisely – and I really do mean precisely – the line of reasoning CLA took to avoid any effective activism on behalf of LAC or our colleagues there during last year’s travails. Honestly I think it’s pretty played out and I don’t see that libraries are the better for it.

    Am I saying there’s no room for respectful, constructive dialogue? Of course not, that’s absurd. But I am arguing for a plurality tactics? Certainly.

    The perpetual cluck-clucking whenever a librarian dares to show a little fire over anything is getting pretty wearisome. It’s also doing a great deal to discourage young, passionate members of the profession from speaking out and making use of their expertise in defending hard-won liberties and rights that are being eroded at an astonishing pace. Please don’t forget that these little triumphs were difficult to achieve in the first place; many of us feel we’re being asked to give them up with barely a whimper.

    This isn’t a question of “be the bigger man” or some similar paternalistic axiom. Asymmetry in rhetoric and PR is indeed A Thing. Excuse me if I don’t want to perpetually play into the hands of the entrenched by pretending that I accept discursive and philosophical premises that are, in fact, totally baseless.

    So I’m happy to go on the public record as a staunch and at times uncompromising advocate for what I think is right. I think our users can actually respect that. Give them some credit.

    And I certainly want people to know that if they step to libraries or our users’ rights there will be somebody out there unafraid to use satire and ridicule – ever the most powerful tools of those who find themselves on the lesser side of a power dialectic – to invite frank and penetrating skepticism of their motives and bona fides. I mean, isn’t that what the internet is for?

  3. Thank you for standing up for our users. Fair dealing is a way for everyone to get something out of copyrighted works, and therefore it’s never, ever going to be perfect. Users of copyrighted works – and the facilitators of those uses, like teachers – are, a lot of them, just trying to do their job, whether it be teaching or research or whatever. Access Copyright, as it stands, is not helping them to do their jobs. It’s also not helping me do my job. I want the professors that I work with to be able to do what they want, in a fair, legal, and easy-to-moderate manner, but if I’m hamstrung by the university’s agreement with AC, that’s a problem.

    And Myron, thanks for standing up for new librarians and archivists. I think it’s becoming harder for information professionals as a whole to stand up against legislation that goes against the principles that we’re taught. When you don’t know the landscape, it’s really hard to avoid falling down a mineshaft. But does that mean that I should assume that I’m going to fall down said mineshaft every time I have an opinion? No. There’s a reason that our profession is seen as dusty and jaded, but I refuse to be a part of that. So thanks again. It is vital that librarians be able to think outside our institutions – for our users but also for ourselves.

    • Sara, thanks for your post. Could I ask for some further clarification? Can you help me understand how the university’s agreement with Access makes you hamstrung? What about the license prevents you doing your job properly? I confess I don’t know much about what the world looks like from where you sit, so what is frustrating about it exactly? Could you explain more about this? Thx!

      • First, to clarify, I did put in a qualifying “if” – as in, the potential exists within the agreement with AC to cause issues :)

        The problem for me lies in what AC is requiring researchers to do. I exist, in my daily job, to help researchers do what they need to do. And AC requires researchers (in institutions that have signed a licensing agreement) to A) ensure that they’re only keeping a copy on an Access Copyright-approved server, B) ensure that they don’t share the article with anyone outside of their institution, even if they’re writing the paper together, and/or C) to submit their computer, their email, or their cloud software to surveillance measures by the university and possibly AC. This might not seem like a huge deal – it’s the problem of the researchers, not me, right? Unfortunately, that’s not really the way it works. I facilitate academic research – it’s an actual part of my job, and I really care about my researchers! I want them to succeed and write papers and be brilliant and get tenure, and Access Copyright presents a possible barrier to that. That’s where the problem lies for me.


  4. Pingback: Fighting for the Right to Copy: In Which Copyright is Discussed at Some Length | Love Letters

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  6. Pingback: Around the Web: Access Copyright Smackdown, Big data snail mail, Postdocalypse now and more [Confessions of a Science Librarian] - lookfi

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