Summertime, and the lobbyin’ is easy…

District Dispatch is willing to bet that your Senators and Representative to Congress aren’t spending much time this summer wriggling their toes in the sand (unless you happen to live near the beach) or sipping espresso al fresco in Paris (unless you live near a big hotel in Las Vegas).  Although Washington-speak for August is that Congress is “in recess,” what every Senator and Member of Congress is really in is their own backyard— which is to say your backyard— kissing babies and meeting with the people who elect and, they hope, re-elect them.  That’s even more true in summers right before an election, like this one.

That means this is your chance to take those toes out of the sand or the pool for just a few minutes and point them, or at least your phone or computer, in the direction of your nearest (and they really are close) Member of Congress.  We Washington Office types may be useful but, truth be told, you’re the one who’s essential when it comes to persuading Senators and Representatives to do the right thing. Tip O’Neill, the legendary former Speaker of the House, famously said that “all politics is local.”  He was right then and he’s right now.

So, speaking of “right now,” please stop reading this posting immediately and visit ALA’s Legislative Action Center.   Once there, take just 30 seconds to sign up for legislative alerts (Spoiler Warning: you’re about to get one next week aimed at pushing two critical privacy protection bills onto the floor in Congress and out to the President’s desk).  Truth is, we need you this Summer more than ever.

Everybody into the pool!!!

Posted in Library Advocacy

Now available: Archived copyright session

Video from the interactive copyright webinar “International Copyright and Library Practices” is now available. The online seminar covered the basics of international copyright and how it applies to use of foreign works by libraries and in educational settings in the United States. The American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Information Technology Policy Copyright Education Subcommittee hosted the educational webinar.

Janice T. Pilch discussed international copyright practices during the webinar. Pilch is a copyright and licensing librarian and a member of the faculty of Rutgers University Libraries and a former chair of the ALA OITP Copyright Education Subcommittee. From 2007-2011, Pilch served as an international copyright advocate for the Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and other international organizations to promote fair and equitable access to information. She served as Visiting Program Officer on International Copyright for the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) from 2009-2010. She is currently the U.S. representative to the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) Committee on Copyright and Other Legal Matters, and chairs a permanent committee on copyright issues within the Association of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies.

Posted in Copyright, OITP Tagged with: , ,

The sweep of fair use guidelines


I occasionally conduct copyright workshops, particularly at state library associations. I like to talk about the purpose of copyright and of course, fair use. At the last conference, after I made some comments about fair use guidelines (pdf), a workshop attendee declared, “You are blowing my mind.” (Think about “blowing someone’s mind.” Of course, it is just a saying, but I did feel a momentary sense of power.) What I was saying about fair use guidelines? They are “made up,” and do not have the force and effect of the copyright law.

This reminds me of a time years ago at an ALA conference when I was talking to a school librarian about fair use. He said that the fair use guidelines help him manage copyright issues at his school. I said, “Well, you know the fair use guidelines are not in the copyright law.”

He said, “Yes they are.”

“No, they’re not.”

“Yes they are.”

“No, they’re not.”

He insisted, “Yes they are, the guidelines are in Section 159” (or some number he pulled from air).

This librarian so wanted to believe that the fair use guidelines are the law that he made up a section of the copyright law where they supposedly exist. After finally convincing him that the guidelines were that, just guidelines and not fair use, he whispered, “Don’t tell the teachers.”

Understanding the copyright law requires a good deal of “unlearning.” The fair use guidelines are those rules that tell you that, for non-profit educational purposes, using some percentage of a protected work is fair, and supposedly any higher amount is not fair. You can find a slew of them on the Web.


Text Material: Up to 10 percent or 1,000 words, whichever is less, of a single copyrighted work of text.

Motion Media: Up to 10 percent or 3 minutes, whichever is less, of a single copyrighted motion media work.

My favorite

Poems: An entire poem of less than 250 words, but no more than three poems by one poet or five poems by different poets from a single anthology. In longer poems, the 250-word limit still applies, plus no more than three excerpts by one poet or five excerpts by different poets from a single anthology may be used.

If this “rule” were true, it would mean that copying 251 words of a poem is an infringement of copyright regardless of the situation. Doesn’t that just sound silly?

How will we know when a use of a work is fair? Congress suggested that a stakeholder group meet, and taking all opinions into account, build a sharing understanding of what fair use looks like.

The fair use guidelines were designed, in part, to help librarians make decisions about fair use in the classroom setting because librarians and educators wanted more clarity about fair use. Librarians loved guidelines for a time and many institutions adopted them. They are handy, if you want to quickly respond to a copyright question with a definite-sounding answer. And the answer is “30 seconds,” period. They make things easier, and many people like a “bright line” between fair and not fair.

Bright lines encourage short term decision-making about copyright without considering the long-term consequences. They can also be used to “freeze” fair use, and fair use needs to be flexible enough to work in a variety of situations, now and in the future. Bright lines also give people the false hope that by adhering to the guidelines, they are in a “safe harbor” and will never be sued. Librarians began to think of the guidelines as law, not realizing that strict adherence would quash creativity and learning. I wager it was around this time that librarians became known as “the copyright police.”

Where did these arbitrary rules come from? As the drafting of the Copyright Law of 1976 worked its (long) way through the legislative process, fair use was codified in the statute for the first time. But what is fair use? How will we know when a use of a work is fair? Congress suggested that a stakeholder group meet, and taking all opinions into account, build a sharing understanding of what fair use looks like. The stakeholder group included publisher and author association representatives, met and came up with classroom guidelines, probably with good intentions. The most important thing for librarians was that the guidelines were easy, and they could rest assure that they would not make mistakes when using fair use, and therefore, not get into trouble. Not only did librarians fear the worse, they were a rule-oriented bunch and disliked ambiguity. Of course it did not help that the American Library Association published its own set of guidelines (pdf) based on the classroom guidelines.

Fortunately, over the last 20 years, many librarians slowly abandoned fair use guidelines in favor of fair use. Fair use education and advocacy has made a real difference. Libraries have used fair use to address distance education, course reserves, orphan works and mass digitization.

But the guideline defenders are out there. For those who find themselves in a copyright bind, a guideline chart that you can find somewhere on the web comes in handy because then you do not have to think critically. Educators and librarians still use the guidelines to make a quick and dirty decision while thoughtful inquiry is prudent, and professionally responsive to information users.

Posted in Copyright, Public Libraries, School Libraries Tagged with: ,

Margaret Kavaras Appointed as OITP Research Associate

Margaret PhotoToday, the American Library Association (ALA) announces the appointment of Margaret Kavaras as a Research Associate for the organization’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP). As part of the OITP Fellows Program, Kavaras may work on diverse issues in information technology policy within the OITP portfolio.

Kavaras previously worked for the technology policy unit as a Google Policy Fellow during the summer of 2014. Her appointment as a Research Associate will extend from September 1, 2014, through August 31, 2015. She is a graduate student in public administration at Central European University in Budapest. Kavaras completed her undergraduate degree in international affairs and history at George Washington University.

Kavaras will continue her work on her Living Stories, Living Libraries website. Her work as a Research Associate will include synthesizing the content on the website for use in public policy advocacy.

The OITP Fellows Program serves to draw on nationally recognized researchers, practitioners and policy advocates in library and information sciences or allied areas to strengthen the OITP’s involvement in national policy discussions. In 2011, OITP expanded this program by creating Research Associates, who are early-career professionals with demonstrated potential and serious interest in national public policy engagement.

Posted in OITP Tagged with: ,

Conserving constitutional copyright: A clarion call for common sense

CashCopyright discourse has been knocked off its moorings. Rights holders would have you believe that the foundational purpose of the copyright law is to protect their exclusive ability to reap the financial windfalls their works generate (case in point: the Authors Guild’s recent derision of HathiTrust and the Google Books Library Project as “ad hoc approaches to digitization that endanger our literary culture”). Although this argument is just as unconvincing as it is unappealing to most ordinary Americans, it has come to be reflected in our public policy because, quite simply, it is supported by interest groups that support the politicians who control our copyright law and regulations. Chief among these groups is the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Hollywood’s trade association and lobbying leviathan. Political contributions database Open Secrets reveals that the MPAA has given $5,500 in contributions to House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (VA-6) in the 2014 election cycle and the Wall Street Journal reports that the organization contributed about $600,000 to organizations that play a political role in 2012.

As we all know, however, Hollywood produces a great deal of artful fiction — and we can add the notion that copyright exists principally to protect rights holders to the lot. We need to dispel this notion once and for all and reset copyright upon its constitutional underpinnings. In short, we, as users and creators of content, need to recast the discussion by conserving our founders’ conception of copyright. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution empowers Congress “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

Any fair interpretation of this clause acknowledges that the granting of exclusive rights to authors and inventors is a means to an end, and that the “end” is the promotion of arts and science. In other words, copyright, as the framers imagined it, is best understood as a means of promoting the public interest. Notable copyright scholars have been advancing this idea for decades. Influential thinkers like Ray Patterson, Peter Jaszi, Jessica Litman and Lydia Pallas have all made some iteration of the argument that our copyright law was written to protect the public against any confluence of political interests that might lead to policies that restrict access to content. In “The Purpose of Copyright,” Pallas writes:

In 1557, the desires of the booksellers and the desires of the crown coincided. The crown perceived the need to gain greater control over “the dangerous possibilities of the printed word” and so granted a royal charter to the Stationers’ Company that limited most printing to only members of the company…The framers of the United States Constitution, suspicious of all monopolies to begin with, knew the history of the copyright as a tool of censorship and press control. They wanted to assure that copyright was not used as a means of oppression and censorship in the United States. They therefore expressly provided for the purpose of copyright: to promote the progress of knowledge and learning.

Despite their intellectual heft, leading copyright scholars who have taken up the cause of users’ rights have been unable to impact public policy discussions in any significant way. But one refreshing thought is that the dawn of the digital age affords users’ rights advocates a new opportunity to animate the arguments of these scholars with a populist flair. For a growing number of consumers of books, music and video, digital is the preferred medium. Many within this cohort lament the fact that the copyright rules that apply to the analog world do not always apply to the digital world. They are exasperated or even enraged by what they perceive to be copyright’s failure to acknowledge their established rights to privacy, free expression, accessibility, and more when it is applied to digital content.

What they need is a resonant, commonsense message that will reinforce their conviction that copyright should meet their expectations as digital users — and what message could be better than: “When the founding fathers conceived of copyright, they were thinking of you.” If we co-opt reputable think-tanks, influential public officials and other influential players in the policymaking process to spread this message, we may just be able to start a new discussion on copyright, starting at the grassroots: One which places a premium on the law’s true intent, not on the arguments of moneyed interests.

Posted in Copyright, OITP Tagged with: , ,

Bring more library programs to South by Southwest!

The American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) is joining other library organizations, libraries, museums and archives to build a growing presence at Austin’s annual South by Southwest (SXSW) EDU and Interactive festivals. Together, we hope to connect, inform, persuade and change perceptions of libraries among established and emerging leaders in the technology and education spheres. We need your help to bring our programs to the SXSW stage!

Public voting counts for 30 percent of SXSW’s decision to pick a panel, so please join us in voting for great library and museum programs. ALA OITP has proposed one panel for EDU and one for Interactive:

Hacking the Culture of Learning in the Library

How do we help learners of all ages stay curious, develop their passions, immerse themselves in learning? Welcome to the library. Libraries are the informal learning space that encourages exploration and discovery, and librarians lead in creating new opportunities to engage learners and make learning happen. Libraries are the incubation space to hack education—to create new paradigms where learners own their education, librarians mediate learning, and learning outside school walls is legitimized.

Coworking, Creating, Doing Business @ your library

About 40 percent of U.S. workers will be in temp, freelance and self-employed work by 2020. Responding to this need, U.S. public libraries are becoming a new force in coworking. Hundreds of libraries support cowork and mobile work spaces—leveraging tech and social networks, specialized content and staff, and convenient locations, according to the first library study to track these trends. Open one year, the DC Public Library Dream Lab has attracted 56 members, including MapStory, an online social cartographic platform, to collaborate and use technologies to develop and sustain new ventures. In exchange for free coworking space, each member provides an hour or more of public programming per month related to information technologies—extending the social network and empowering the community in a transformative way. Learn more about how cowork and small business collaborations are changing libraries and communities as we know them—and building a stronger knowledge economy.

With thanks to our collaborators in the SXSW LAM (Libraries, Archives and Museums) group for bringing all our various programs together, you can find a complete list here.

Become a “registered voter” in the Panel Picker process by signing up for an account here, and get your votes in before Friday, Sept. 5. Please spread the word and add comments to the proposals to show your support, and share far and wide! Selected panels will be announced starting Monday, Oct. 20, 2014. Thanks!

Posted in OITP Tagged with:


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