DPLA should push overhaul of copyright laws

capitol3In my posting made earlier in the semester, I argued that building a solid and rich infrastructure is the most significant contribution can be made by DPLA. Now I believe pushing the overhaul of copyright laws is another item.

As our both discussion leaders are emphatic about the fighting the rights of digital libraries by well-funded institutions such as DPLA and HathiTrust, I think DPLA is particularly suitable as an advocacy group on behalf of all public digital libraries, as its name implies. DPLA should have the aspiration to research a new copyright model as a reference for the future legislation. Witnessing the momentum it accumulated during the last two months before the launch, I am confident with DPLA’s capability for such a legislative movement, judged by its collaboration mindset and grant funding. By contrast, HathiTrust can only play an auxiliary or passive role. Most of Hathi’s member organizations are research libraries and are thus not representative of general public libraries. In addition, some of its members are in foreign countries and might not be interested or qualified in nation-specific law issues. However, HathiTrust can lend its experience with the lawsuit by Author’s Guild and provide inputs from research libraries’ perspectives.

The principle of first sale doctrine is deemed to be the bottom line because it has been working well on analog materials for several decades. I don’t like the ideas of forcing libraries to become renters, rather than owners, of digital works after they pay to “purchase” digital materials. Such commercial practices easily circumvent copyright laws and libraries are usually in a less advantageous position to negotiate license teams in their favor. To consumers or libraries, an object is an object no matter what its format is, in my opinion. Once a transaction is complete, their rights have to be protected as long as they abide by the same laws applicable to analog objects.

Besides the restoration of the first sale doctrine in digital sphere, DPLA can take the lead to tackle the issues of orphan works and mass digitization by overhauling the existing copyright laws. Without these two issues being fundamentally resolved, Robert Darnton’s dream of making all knowledge available to all citizens could just be a utopia. Fighting one lawsuit after another is the least thing librarians want to do.

I like one of the remarks made by Dan Cohen, DPLA’s new chief, that large-scale initiatives involving technology are indeed “social” projects. This is especially true in the endeavor to push the overhaul of copyright laws. Each library or museum has its own mission and concern. They might have different requirements on lending, preservation, distribution, etc. Without leadership to reconcile, there is dim hope to present a consolidated vision to the public and the legislature. DPLA’s assuming such a role is a boon to all public libraries in America.

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3 responses to “DPLA should push overhaul of copyright laws

  1. I agree with you, and I don’t like that library has to be a renter when it comes to the digital resources either. I have practiced to negotiate with a publisher for some digital materials in a class. The license is so complicated. And there are a lot limitations on fair use. For example, the copies of digital materials should only be used for research and study purpose. Publishers will notice and let librarians know once there are too many copies made in a day or on a same computer. I think these limitations can not help librarians benefit the community. I hope that DPLA can make changes in this field in the future.

  2. Great post, hsikai, and great comment, yiwenw! For those of you interested in these topics and themes and still have time for coursework at SLIS, let me recommend Electronic Resource Management (ERM), a class in which you will learn the inside info on contract negotiation for these resources, among other things. This is an important and marketable skill that gives you a very strong place from which to advocate for your institutions and patrons.

  3. Sarah I second the idea of taking ERM. I took it last fall and it was a great class. Very hands on, learning how to read a contract, red-line it and what language to use to make changes was great ‘real-world’ experience.
    To the post I agree completely with you on the role DLPA can play. I think almost all librarians are worried over copyright issues and are willing to work to make it better but as in most situations what we need is a leader. I’ve worked in politics and on various political campaigns. Lots of us have energy but it takes special people/organizations to put that energy to use. With such a high profile and the ability to tap into the smartest people on the topic DPLA could be the force that gets all the other librarians going.
    Changing copyright law can seem like an impossible task for an individual librarian. DPLA could get everyone motivated and on the same page, talking about the same message, focusing on the same demands. If they wanted they could make a powerful movement.

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