There’s an odd library story playing out in Arkansas. If you’re not immersed in the right wing echo chamber, you might have missed it. Since most librarians probably aren’t here’s a brief recap.
A right wing news site called the Washington Free Beacon got copies of some old audio recordings of Hillary Clinton from the University of Arkansas archives and published the content online.
The Dean of the library then sent them a letter saying they had published the recordings without signing the “permission to publish” form, informing them that they were violating copyright, demanding that they unpublish the recordings, and banning their researchers from the archives until the demands were met.
The Washington Free Beacon was very excited when some Fox New commentators jumped all over the Dean, which I guess excites some people. And they claimed that copies of the tapes were given to them with no notice that they weren’t to be published or that publication might violate copyright.
That was my first clue that somebody had their story wrong, and that anyone familiar with research in special collections libraries would notice the mistake immediately. I guess the Fox News commentators don’t do a lot of historical research.
From what I can gather using Google News, the story bounced around the right wing echo chamber for a while. However, it was hard to find any coverage by a site that wasn’t just a partisan news source mimicking the original publication.
Even a source like Reason Magazine reported the story in a stupid way. The opening phrase is, “Proving once again that libraries are vestiges of Soviet thinking.” Huh? There are so many stupid assumptions packed into those ten words it’s hard to know where to begin.
Proving once again, because there is other evidence? Soviet thinking? What exactly is that? And what relation did it ever have to “libraries,” given that “libraries” preexisted the Soviet Union? And if something preexisted something else, can it be a vestige of that thing?
If nothing else, this situation is an obviously an anomaly or it wouldn’t be news at all, and anomalies don’t “prove” anything except the general rule they’re exceptions from. Reason, indeed.
The closest I could find to a site actually trying to report the story instead of just score propaganda points was in Business Insider of all places, and that’s not exactly the paper of record.
You have to give them credit, though, because instead of just doing a “he said, she said” and automatically believing the claims of partisan allies one way or the other without checking any facts, Business Insider actually published the documents back and forth between the library and the Washington Free Beacon.
While the WBE claims the recordings were copied with no restrictions, the documentation proves otherwise. The form the WBE researcher signed clearly says, ““These materials are for my exclusive use, for the sole purpose of research or study convenience. I understand that I am responsible for complying with the laws governing copyright and literary property rights.”
There’s more dissembling.
For example, in addition to claiming that the library offered the recordings with no restrictions, which the paperwork belies, the Beacon’s lawyer also wrote that “You have not demonstrated or even asserted that the University owns the copyright to these recordings.”
That’s an irrelevant statement. If someone borrows a recent book from your library, scans the contents, and makes it publicly available online, they’re violating copyright. If they make it publicly clear that they continue to do this, the library in question would be irresponsible to let them keep borrowing books.
The library might not have the standing to sue for copyright violations, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any.
Out of all the stuff and nonsense thrown up in defense of violating copyright law, the best argument I could find was that the content of the tapes was relevant to the public interest. The recording is of Clinton discussing a rape case from when she was a public defender.
It might be in the public interest or it might not. But if the revelations were really that explosive, the big story wouldn’t be about the library dean and the way the news site got the recordings.
Of course, that’s merely an argument of convenience. The NSA revelations of Edward Snowden were clearly in the public interest, and much more so than an old interview with Hillary Clinton about events from decades ago, but the Beacon is so anti-Snowden that the editors refuse to read a book about him, and refusing to educate yourself or consider differing viewpoints is good evidence of a lack of journalistic standards.
This is why it’s impossible to take any of the partisan press seriously as journalists, and why outside this particular echo chamber nobody is likely to care about this story. It’s like descending into the left wing echo chamber if you want clearheaded reporting on George W. Bush.
When you’ve proven you’re interested in facts only if they smear your opponent and ignore them if they don’t, your lack of intellectual integrity is pretty clear for everyone to see, unless they have the same lack of intellectual integrity.
The ironic fact is that the Clinton recording is possibly an important news story, but the story is now so mired in the mud of propaganda and dissembling attacks on libraries that few other than partisan hacks will even bother to investigate.
The Dean of the University of Arkansas library has published a response to all this if you’re interested, but it’s not nearly as tedious and sensational as wading through partisan mudslinging.