Where the heck did all of these librarians come from?

Copyright WeekWe’re taking part in Copyright Week, a series of actions and discussions supporting key principles that should guide copyright policy. Every day this week, various groups are taking on different elements of the law, and addressing what’s at stake, and what we need to do to make sure that copyright promotes creativity and innovation.

Today’s topic is transparency, but I chose to write about librarians.

We have a good number of librarians who, beyond a doubt, are copyright geeks, like me. In fact, we call ourselves copyright geeks especially now that the term “geek” has gained such popularity. These are librarians— a few with JDs—who attend conferences like Berkeley Center for Law and Technology Symposium on copyright formalities. Really, who would find “Constraints and flexibilities in the Berne Convention” an attention -grabbing program? (I loved it!!)

2905162295_a4976145caWhat do we do? Crazy things like studying Congressional hearings from the 1970s, citing eBay v. MercExchange at CopyNight, and reading the entire 130-page Hargreaves Digital Economy Report. You can find our hoard at any American Library Association (ALA) conference program, meeting or discussion group that has anything to do with copyright. We make our selves available to the profession, teaching other librarians about copyright, social responsibility and of course, the four factors of fair use. Of course, we do not give legal advice, but we often know more about the copyright law than the typical counsel retained by the library or educational institutions. Yet we are not snobbish. We have our copyright scholar heroes, and we pester them, prizing any new copyright gem of knowledge that they might utter.

The increased interest in copyright is often interconnected with technological advancement and innovation (what else?), and the desire to use technology to the fullest extent – so we can preserve, lend, data mine, and rely on fair use. But way back in the day—yes, the time before the internet— there were librarians with copyright expertise formidable enough to represent library communities across this great nation at U. S. Congressional copyright policy-making since before the Copyright Act of 1976. These librarians were primarily ALA and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) staff. Current staffs at these same associations, along with the staff at the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) have formed a coalition, now more than 15 years ago called the Library Copyright Alliance (LCA). We were plodding along before the cooler kids (EFF and Public Knowledge) moved into the copyright neighborhood.

8cdff3495d6670630c8f61b146167210What sets librarian copyright geeks and their associations apart from the cool kids? We have continuing contact with the public, and we talk to them. If a member of the public has a copyright need, we help them. And if this member of the public has issue with government copyright policy, we tell them how to contact their Member of Congress.

Plus we have thousands of association members who believe in civil society and are probably more likely vote in an election. We might be stuck with the librarian stereotype, but on the other hand, our library communities have great trust in us. While it’s true that we don’t have the lobbying resources that large corporations have, and we can’t introduce folks to Angelina Jolie, we hold our own.

So in honor of Copyright Week, all hail the copyright librarians!! (Did you see – we even have a television show!!)

About Carrie Russell

Carrie Russell is the Director of the Program on Public Access to Information in the Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP). Her portfolio includes copyright, international copyright, accessibility, e-books and other public policy issues. She has a MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a MA in media arts from the University of Arizona. She can be reached via e-mail at crussell@alawash.org.

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