A New Approach to [Library] Copyright Exceptions and Limitations

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Thanks for sharing. I had noticed this topic before in http://blog.archive.org/2016/07/27/the-copyright-office-is-trying-to-redefine-libraries-but-libraries-dont-want-it-who-is-it-for/:

Now the Copyright Office wants to completely overhaul Section 108 of the Copyright Act, the “library exceptions,” in ways that could break the Wayback Machine and repeal fair use for libraries.

True to nearly all copyright reform, this is driven by copyright owners. But what is the “new approach” advocated for in a guest post at the Association of Research Libraries?

  • “Rather than fight reasonable adjustments to Title 17 to accommodate digital technology, rightsholders should embrace them. […] Doing so would more deeply entrench the role of films in American culture and society.”
  • “Similarly, publishers should facilitate libraries making the robust use of their collections. Libraries spend $4 billion a year acquiring books and other materials. The more access libraries are able to provide to their collections—the more libraries are used—the easier it is for libraries to secure the budget they need to purchase more materials.”
  • “The same logic applies to remixes and fan fiction. More enlightened rightsholders have recognized that these activities deepen fan loyalty and result in increased sales. Additionally, these activities train the next generation of artists. And of course, reasonable exceptions enhance the credibility of the copyright system generality.”

In other words, let libraries get a slightly larger share (promise!) of the property-based and thus anti-freedom, anti-equality, and anti-security system, and they will promote and legitimize this system with even more gusto, serving as kiosks for additional marketing placement the knowledge property industry.

What is new about this beggarly approach? Nothing.

A genuinely new approach would take that $4 billion annual spend to demand the limited exceptions the libraries once. This means not buying from publishers who refuse to grant at least that little.

But I’d prefer a much stronger approach: buy no closed materials. Spend the $4 billion on a mix of other programs (e.g., literacy, access to digital and other tools, access to quiet) and supporting commons-based production of open materials.

Finally, my modest proposal: prohibit libraries from not only buying, but providing any kind of access to closed materials. Place proprietary artifacts in dark archives until the property-based regulation of knowledge is eliminated.

I agree that this “approach” seems to basically be the same “whine that we’re do getting drippings from the king’s table” instead of trying to propose something actually new.

I was especially concerned by the article’s upholding of DRM as a solution. “We’re going to DRM it anyway, so why not let us share it?”

Yes, libraries love DRM. Some librarians hate it no doubt, but libraries salivate at the potential of being continued brokers of access to the same types of scarce resources. Let us (libraries) buy more DRM’d media, they beg. To hell with universal access to knowledge, this keeps us in the position of cultural drug supplier to a committed and very conservative (in the not wanting change sense) clientele whose votes we count on for our budgets. Since the above is an ARL piece, there’s a similar dynamic for research libraries, with academics being the users/clients; let us continue being their brokers for access to closed access research. Very understandable really, as much as I hate it. The ‘kiosks’ link above is 3rd in series of blog posts I did a few years ago when some of this belatedly clicked for me.

The other thing I’m tired of with this non-new approach is telling the knowledge property industries that they’d be better off if only they relaxed a bit and let one or more of pirates, fans, libraries, schools, startups, etc., slightly more favorable access or terms. They (copyright owners) would sell more product and become more entrenched! I used to also make fun of their apparent stupidity. No more.

If I were an advocate of treating knowledge as property, I would see the situation as very dynamic, and favor maintaining control over maximizing short-run profits. I would probably think my predecessors handled VCRs the right way, very cautiously. They did make a huge amount of money off that technological era, and they maintained control so as to continue huge profits into the next eras. So what if they lost a bit of early profits, before the market was even huge? They were smart. We are following their excellent example: maximize long-term control and risk-adjusted profits and keep our opponents serving us by keeping them begging from us, and searching for no real alternatives.

I want liberalizing reformers to stop telling the knowledge property industries what is good for those industries and start doing what is good for commons-based knowledge production.

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