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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Partisan Bickering in the Natural State

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.



  1. “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,” that’s debatable. I think both are clearly in the public interest. I also would consider this fair use. Equally, were something like this to have surfaced in an archives about Romney during the last election, the reporters would have had a duty to print/release despite any library/copyright rules violations.

    I don’t think the library is wrong in blocking further use by the organization that breaks its rules, but I do think that it’s strange to have rules that prevent a newspaper- regardless of quality- from sharing and reporting on interesting and relevant (relevancy is a subjective term here, whereas all aspects of a public political figure’s life can be deemed relevant as it speaks to character.)

    I do not believe, however, that were this Mother Jones uncovering interview tapes of Rand Paul that put him in a negative light that this would have been treated the same way by the left- but that’s only because I don’t think Mother Jones would have been barred access to more research.

    • “We’ve never denied a permission to publish for a patron. There’s nothing unique about this requirement.”

      If they’ve never denied a permission to publish, why must someone ask for permission to publish? “We WOULD have said yes, but since they didn’t ask first, it’s a NO.”

    • That’s the whole point of being a copyright holder Spencer. You have to ask them permission. Also considering it’s not the first time they have refused to fill out what appears to be a very simple and straightforward form then it’s their right to refuse service to them.

    • Spencer says:

      I agree that they are within their rights to refuse service- I just think it’s silly to do so. It serves no purpose in this instance. Plus, AL’s analogy rings false. they were not photocopying whole books- and if they were and the book had journalistic merit and was in the public interest, then the whole copyright argument is moot. (which, in this case, it is).

    • It’s not silly to do so. Just because no one has asked for something that they have refused in the past isn’t a good justification. Clearly this publication has refused to follow protocol in the past. Procedures are in place for a reason. What if this publication reproduces an item that is under copyright from someone outside of the university? It’s the responsibility of the library to do their best to combat this, otherwise whose to say that they shouldn’t be held liable?

      The bottom line is the publication screwed up and now they are trying to shift blame to the library (or accuse them of trying to stymie free speech) because they can’t follow simple instructions.

    • Spencer says:

      We must agree to disagree. The publication did not screw up- and neither did the library (other than having silly policies). The publiction did nothing wrong. They published tapes of journalistic merit that they, and others, view as beign vital to the public interest. There was no wrongdoing. That, in fact, isn’t the story anyone cares about. They care about the perceived, and paranoid, notion that the library is banning them as part of a partisan play disguised as policy. Is this true? Of course not. However, when the organization says “they just needed to fill out form mkZ\\82X” the Hawkeye Peirce in me wants to call them a Ferret Face.

      If there is a policy that one must ask to go to the bathroom, and this request is never denied, why even have a policy that one must ask? Why can one not simply go to the bathroom?

  2. Awesome Blossom says:
  3. From a purely libraries point of view, the library’s PR person @LauraJacobs gets credit for handling the matter well on Twitter and likely elsewhere. Go take a look.

  4. noutopianlibrarian says:

    “I don’t think the library is wrong in blocking further use by the organization that breaks its rules, but I do think that it’s strange to have rules that prevent a newspaper- regardless of quality- from sharing and reporting on interesting and relevant .” The rules are not there to prevent, they are there to ensure compliance with copyright law. CNN was faulted by the same library for the same reason. Whether you equate it to permission to go to the bathroom or not is irrelevant, not to mention obfuscation. Contrary to every right-wing smear, this issue arises because the paid Republican attack person, Shawn Reinschmiedt, who “conducted the research” and then passed it onto a Beacon reporter for publication despite having agreed that their research was for personal use only is at fault. The Beacon, along with similar organizations that practice without a shred of journastic integrity and ethics, is at fault for twisting this into an extension of an already cowardly and despicable smear of a political candidate. You appear to be complicit as an apologist. I’m assuming for the moment that you are a library staff member, if not a librarian. If so, you know that part of our ethical framework in providing the resources we do to the public includes due diligence for protection of copyright law. The only relevant question to me is whether this use constitutes fair use. At this point, I believe it likely does, however it is clear that not only was there subterfuge in the way the information was obtained, but it is clear that the person who obtained the information did not follow the policies they agreed to and that the Beacon operates in a less than transparent way in their journalistic endeavors. From what little I know about him (the “researcher”), I’d guess he is is a Breitbart wanna-be who has little sense of decency anyway.

    • Well,

      we all know what happens when you make an assumption. Your tone is repugnant. “If so, you know that part of our ethical framework in providing the resources we do to the public includes due diligence for protection of copyright law. The only relevant question to me is whether this use constitutes fair use. At this point, I believe it likely does,”

      So, you accuse me of not understanding protection of copyright and then agree with me that this likely was not an infringement at all?!

      Also, it’s good to know that I’ve finally heard from the arbiter of what is and is not journalistically relevant.

      “From what little I know about him (the “researcher”), I’d guess he is is a Breitbart wanna-be who has little sense of decency anyway.” Looks like maybe someone went to graduate school for making assumptions, not librarianship? Why is “conducted the research” in quotes? Did he not, in fact, conduct research? Or are you the arbiter of what does and does not constitute research as well.

      Not only is your tone repugnant, but so is your apparent partisanship and ignorance of fact and practice. I am shamed to count someone so rude and quick to judge as a colleague. I’m glad you don’t find employment at my library- but for no political reason, but just because your post leaves the impression of someone I don’t want helping the people I am charged with providing service to.

    • “Not only is your tone repugnant, but so is your apparent partisanship and ignorance of fact and practice. I am shamed to count someone so rude and quick to judge as a colleague. I’m glad you don’t find employment at my library- but for no political reason, but just because your post leaves the impression of someone I don’t want helping the people I am charged with providing service to.”


      Come on, you are trolling right? Because this level of anger is either crazy or you’re enjoying it.

    • spencer says:

      ¯ \_(ツ)_/¯

  5. noutopianlibrarian says:

    I don’t accuse you of anything other than complicity in defending the way the Beacon and media have handled this rather than acknowledging and supporting the library’s application of processes designed to ensure copyright law is complied with. I have no partisan liking for Ms. Clinton, nor for Mr. Obama (who didn’t get my vote). My allegiance here is to the library community, not only University of Arkansas, who is under attack in deliberately misleading fashion, as a search engine inquiry of this controversy will bear out to anyone interested. The researcher, to whom I applied quotation marks because their role appears to be politically motivated for digging up dirt on a political candidate, which may constitute research but which I chose to differentiate because of the integrity in which this affair has been, and continues to be conducted by everyone except the library and their staff. My ignorance lies in whether the use of the materials by the Beacon does, in fact, constitute fair use. That’s for the courts to decide, if it comes to that. My rudeness is a reaction to the tone being used in the attacks on libraries ““The Clinton machine and its army of librarians won’t be able to keep us out of that archive,” Continetti…(editor in chief of Beacon – Fox News ). “Authoritian library demands censorship…”, among them. I find these and other similar journalistic utterings to be alarming. My identification of your complicity is that I perceive that you are supporting the perspective of the Beacon rather than that of the library. The Beacon and its allies are acting in the wrong in the way they are smearing the library in this episode, and to the extent that being allied supports the perceived wrong, I see identify this as complicit. The library will provide access to the Beacon based on agreeing to the same process as any other research organization or person. That’s integrity.

    • spencer says:

      So it’s just bad reasoning and accusatory tone form general inability to separate a statement of fact from the organization the statement of fact covers? Got it.

  6. Peter Ward says:

    Uhhhh, did the newspaper violate copyright law? If so, did the library have the right to suspend the Beacon’s use of the archive? And just how does that suspension work? If a person identifies themselves as a Beacon researcher, then that person is denied access? If the person doesn’t do so, then what? If I wanted to use the archive, would I have to certify that I don’t work for the Beacon? And why didn’t the researcher just ask simple permission? In this case, the library is the copyright holder, right? “May I use this for a newspaper story?” Simple enough, no?

    I’m confused! Help me out folks.

  7. Peter Ward says:

    Okay, just finished reading Section 107 of the copyright law, which defines fair use. It explicitly lists news reporting as fair use. The Beacon is a newspaper, therefore the use of archive comes under fair use, right? Am I missing something?

    • Spencer says:

      Nope. Just that there is, it seems, a policy that makes them ask permission before they do something they are legally allowed to do (which is OK if that’s what the library wants to do, but it’s silly and leads to issues like this that shouldn’t be issues at all).

    • Peter Ward says:

      Yeah, I thought this whole thing was a lot simpler than I first thought. As far as the policy goes, federal law still trumps library policy in Arkansas, right?

  8. noutopianlibrarian says:

    @Peter Ward I agree it is confusing. The confusion arises because Shawn Reinschmiedt, a political operative, agreed to use the materials for personal use, but therafter they were used for for publication on a news site. If one reads up a little on Mr. Reinschmiedt, it is likely one would agree that his role is not as a journalist, as loosely as that is defined in the Internet age. Therefore it is muddied. The “news sites” reporting this molehill are ideologically divided, and therefore add to the confusion. If Mr. Reinschmiedt had been honest in his approach to research then this would be just more mudslinging with the library unaffected. The issue that shouldn’t be an issue is the library’s role. It is apparently consistent with the processes of special collections and archives at other research institutions. I hope that the Beacon and their allies will tire in smearing libraries but doubt it because attacking public institutions has become a norm among those of a certain ideological bent. Curious though – kind of like the proverbial vegan wanting to do research at Burger King, to poorly paraphrase a characterization once voiced in past AL comment sections. The aptness of this observation is that the Library does preserve and provide access to resources for all, the Beacon included, with rules in place for reasons understood by well, reasonable people, so that the Beacon, all other researchers and organizations and democracy in general benefit from the roles, including processes in place to protect copyright, that public institutions, alongside their private partners, provide our societies, at least until those who would diminish them prevail.

    • Peter Ward says:

      Okay, thanks, it is complicated.

    • spencer says:

      There is no complication here. Does it matter WHAT he was using them for as long as how he used them was within his legal rights?! It’s very straightforward. The library asked him why he was using them instead of simply having him sign an agreement that his use would not violate copyright. It’s a bad policy and proceedure that leads to bad library PR.

  9. “Journalists’ fair use rights are particularly favored in U.S. copyright law. Criticism,
    comment and news reporting are all singled out in the law as specific examples of
    general purposes appropriate for fair use. But whether specific instances constitute
    fair use must be determined on a case-by-case basis.” pp 9 here

    • Thanks! I was wondering why the university would require journalists to sign an agreement. Now I know.

    • spencer says:

      “Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”

      I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t think you don’t need to be to understand this guideline.It is my reading, in a straightforward manner, that reproduction for news reporting or criticism is NOT, at all, considered a violation of copyright and is, in fact, fair use. So, I think one can safely assume that there is no threat of copyright violation for the purpose of news reporting, which means the pretense for having someone check a box for permission to do something they have a legal right to do is silly. Can policy supercede a legal right at a public institution? That’s a good question. Could the whole issue have been avoided by NOT acting as a gate keeper to a gate that needs no keeper? YES. I guess it boils down to that I just feel it’s bad PR and customer service all wrapped up into an indefensible bundle.

    • spencer says:

      sorry, I might need a proof reader! typos and errors are due to eating lunch as a type!

  10. Solo Boy says:

    I guess I am just another right wing nut job since I do not understand the moral outrage over this. If Snowden can steal documents from his employer and WikiLeaks can accept stolen documents from various sources, why the outrage over printing transcripts just because someone did not agree to what was signed on a piece of paper? I am sure Snowden and the WikiLeaks thieves felt they were morally justified in breaking the law, or ignoring their employer agreements, to do what they did.

    “It’s really not the same thing!” Yeah, right.


    • noutopianlibrarian says:

      Also, there is a qualitative difference between morals (“moral outrage”) and ethics. The library is acting ethically and is not involved in morals in this situation. The other involved parties are either involved in a profession, journalism, which has a set of ethics to which one might compare their actions, or they are involved in that realm known as politics, which too often upholds neither ethical or moral standards. Either way, as a librarian, I recognize the library as an ethical player – do you?

  11. noutopianlibrarian says:

    What moral outrage do you speak of, pray tell, oh sower of straw? One might recall that Edward Snowden is presently in exile and will most certainly be charged for his actions. The founder of Wikileaks has been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for more than 2 years and will likewise be called to account legally for the actions of the organization. These people, along with Chelsea Manning and many others take their actions with knowledge of the legal issues involved. I’m afraid that Shawn Reinschmiedt and Matthew Continetti and their accomplices show neither the depth of conviction, the willingness to take risks, nor the aptitude to acknowledge the legal implications of their actions that these whistleblowers have shown. Interesting that you label yourself with a perjorative as an opening. There is a curious and seemingly compelling psychology at work.

  12. Remember when conservatives were all about the rule of law and institutions and stuff? And for that matter, property rights? These conservatives have failed to follow simple procedures, created fights where there should be none and cried victim when someone called them on it. And generated a lot of copy and faux outage about it.

    Oh, and the bathroom example above? It’s polite to ask someone to use their bathroom, even if the answer is going to be yes. And if it’s my bathroom and I say you need to ask, you need to ask.

  13. The leaders always get paranoid when they lose popular support and turn on their own ranks looking for spies, dissidents, etc.
    In 2007 Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies shut down a gambling ring,
    ” The announcement of the bust also came with pronouncements of a potential windfall for the participating law-enforcement agencies. “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it
    to the states, are reserved to the states respectively,
    or to the people.

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