One of the most troubling attitudes I encounter when talking with librarians about copyright is a sort of fatalism. The general idea is that copyright is simply a monolithic, unintelligible barricade that prevents libraries from realizing their full potential.
I don’t call myself a futurist, though I do find enjoyment and sometimes enlightenment in watching what’s going on in the world and trying to extrapolate toward what academic libraries might want to do about it. I also harbor a strong love for examples of novel services and fresh ideas about longstanding services, though I’m old and scarred enough not to take them quite at face value—there’s almost always struggle and conflict behind the scenes that does not get aired in order to keep the peace among librarian colleagues.
In my last two columns I explored what I called the “mess of ebooks” and explained what I want from library ebooks. In this column I want to discuss a possible future that could be good for libraries and for publishers. Right now everything is in flux. Publishers are understandably wary of selling Digital Rights Management (DRM)-free ebooks to libraries, and the patron driven acquisition (PDA) model some libraries want might not be sustainable for publishers. Libraries are struggling to buy books at all. The library ebook market is in a state of flux. There’s opportunity in chaos, though, and the opportunity here is to create a future that’s good for everyone, from publishers to library users.
The president surprised many people when he added his comments to the 4 million submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about whether and how the government should set rules that will shape the future of the Internet. What was surprising was that Obama came out with a short but quite pointed outline of what many of us feel would be exactly the right moves to take. Citizens of all political persuasions have strong feeling about the value of keeping the Internet open. How exactly to do that is what’s tricky. Because simplistic metaphors, such as asking whether Internet access is more like cable TV or like electricity, as a recent New York Times article put it, don’t really work, I thought I’d try and untangle what exactly is under debate.
The word “incentive” appears ten times in the ruling issued last month by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in the Georgia State University (GSU) copyright infringement case, but it is slightly unclear in this rather odd opinion just who is the object of the incentive created by copyright. In seven of those ten instances, the incentive is clearly intended to benefit the author. But there are three sentences at the very end of the majority opinion (the other three uses of the word) where the court seems to interrupt its analysis to state that the incentive belongs to publishers, not authors. It is, I think, worth parsing this apparent contradiction in order to guess at how the trial court might think about incentives on remand.
Once, toward the start of my librarian career, I set three different alarms so I wouldn’t miss an early-morning conference keynote. I sense I should be embarrassed by this, as keynotes and keynoters are now spoken of with the genteelly horrified disdain Wodehousian elders reserved for unmarried chorines, but it’s still true, and I am not ashamed.
My last column addressed some of the tensions that underlie the idea of “not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good” in library leadership, and at the end I promised that my next would deal in a similar way with trying to balance the occasional tension between problems that are truly important and those that are merely “noisy.” However, an issue has come up in the meantime that is more timely and urgent, so I’m putting off the “noisy vs. important” column until next time. This month I want to address the issue of patron privacy in the context of the recent revelations about privacy incursions in the latest version of Adobe Digital Editions.