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:

Understanding a turbulent world to develop library policy agenda

Today, the American Library Association (ALA) releases the draft “Trends Report: Snapshots of a Turbulent World” (with Appendix I (pdf) and Appendix II (pdf)) to stimulate discussion about and ultimately inform a national policy agenda for the U.S. library community. A draft policy agenda will be developed for public comment through the Policy Revolution! initiative led by the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) with guidance from its Library Advisory Committee (LAC).

“The speed of change related to technology and the linked policy dimensions is breathtaking. Similarly, library roles and demands are evolving, and so the library community’s national policy priorities need to be critically reviewed and realigned accordingly,” said OITP Advisory Committee Chair and LAC Ex Officio Member Dan Lee.

As a baseline component for this analysis of public policy, the ALA undertook a broad-ranging scan of the horizon of emerging trends affecting U.S. communities. Studies, reports, and more substantive articles on major trends relevant were reviewed, categorized, analyzed, and debated in the past months. ALA Executive Board and LAC member James G. Neal will discuss this report as part of a panel this week at the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) World Library and Information Congress in Lyon, France.

The Policy Revolution! is a three-year initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It includes three major components: establishing policy priorities, engaging decision makers and influencers to advance policy goals, and upgrading ALA policy advocacy practice and capabilities for long-term sustainability.

ALA invites comments on the draft by September 15, 2014. Comments should be posted below or emailed to Larra Clark at lclark at alawash dot org, with the subject line “Comments on Trends Report.” We invite both substantive comments, as well as ideas about how subsets of this material may be useful in various strategy and planning endeavors. The final trends report is expected to be published this fall.

Posted in OITP Tagged with: , , , ,

New grant opportunity for early learning

The Department of Education is launching a new grant opportunity for preschool development grants.  This $250 million grant program will be available at the state level for early learning and literacy.  This is the perfect opportunity to learn about a new money source to further your literacy efforts for our youngest patrons.

A webinar will  be on Wednesday, August 20 at 2:00pmEST to provide further information on this new program.   You must be registered by 4:00pm EST on Tuesday, August 19th in order to attend.  The goal of the webinar is to “provide an orientation and walk through the components of the Preschool Development Grants Competition”.  This is the time to reach out to your state government and let them know about this exciting opportunity! Express to them the importance of becoming knowledgeable of any new funding source; especially those that further literacy.

Posted in Funding, OGR, Public Libraries, Webinars Tagged with: ,

Application period opens for federal library leadership grants

IMLSThe application period for the National Leadership Grants for Libraries is now open, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) announced last week. The federal grants program invests $12 million annually in projects that improve professional library and archive practice with implications far beyond the grantee institutions.

The window for the first grant proposal closes on October 13, 2014. After October, IMLS will invite selected applicants to submit full proposals, which are due on January 15, 2015. Proposals for the National Leadership Grants for Libraries will focus on the three strategic priorities:

  • National digital platform, which focuses on key needs, gaps, opportunities, and goals to consider in furthering national digital initiatives
  • Learning spaces in libraries, which focuses on emerging learning models that can deepen community engagement in libraries, particularly through learning labs, makerspaces, and digital commons
  • STEM learning in libraries, which focuses on learning for all types of users, with an emphasis on models or practices that serve at-risk youth

Applicants interested in learning more may participate in IMLS-hosted webinars on August 20, 2014, at 3:00 PM ET, and on September 16, 2014, at 3:00 PM ET. Register for the webinars

Posted in Digital Literacy, Grants Tagged with:


Sign up today!
Advocate for America's libraries!
Authors for Library Ebooks
E-Content: the official blog for ALA's Digital Content Working Group
Complete Copyright: The new copyright guide for k-12 librarians and educators