Copyright slumlords.

Hugh Rundle has produced another thought provoking article, suggesting the current copyright system is doomed.

Librarians should not play along with this. Eli Neiberger told us earlier this year that our mission should be to ‘fight for the user’. Fighting for the user doesn’t mean signing petitions pleading with publishers to sell us their ebooks. It means looking for alternatives and spending your money with companies that do serve your communities needs properly. Show your community how to publish their own ebooks and bypass the publishers. Show your community how to curate their own newsfeeds using Twitter or Flipboard and cancel your subscriptions to crappy news aggregation databases. Refuse to subscribe to any service that requires your members to create a new account with the provider or an associated DRM software product. Question whether ALIA should really enshrine support for Copyright in its policy documents. Demand to know why IFLA opposes one of the few systems that could support the creation of cultural works without locking them down.

Winter is coming for the copyright slumlords. Make sure you rug up, and remember whose side you are on.

As Hugh knows, I’m closely involved with our library subscribing to a service that requires our members to create an account with a DRM product. That’s how we’re getting at least some popular ebooks into the library. I’ve read other arguments that we should boycott such providers so the publishers are forced to do it our way. I wouldn’t be surprised if the publishers preferred this – then they could just stop selling ebooks to libraries. The fact is, if we want some new release popular ebooks in the library (we can’t get them all), we’re currently forced to make some big compromises.

I’m going to try to guess what is in Hugh’s head and predict his response: that’s fine, let people buy ebooks at the cheap prices that will result when the copyright revolution hits. Libraries will need to reposition themselves as something other than popular fiction lending institutions if they are to survive.

One comment on “Copyright slumlords.

  1. Yes and no. I rewrote that post several times. It’s best to think of the library management strategies I describe in my blog as a sort of Turing Machine (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_Machine) for librarians rather than a management handbook. The idea is to provoke thought and debate, and present some goals to aim for rather than a picture of how the library service I work for is run. Maybe I need to write a post called ‘why I am a hypocrite’..!

    You’re right in that I don’t think the copyright model is sustainable in a post-Internet world. Publishers are right to feel threatened by the rise of ebooks and libraries’ attempts to distribute texts in this way. The problem I see is that in our rush to offer whatever ebooks we can legally obtain and lend, libraries are making compromises on some of our core values. We’re letting publishers set the rules – the primary problem being that when our members are forced to sign up for an Adobe account and access ebooks from vendor sites, they are making a lot of information available to those companies about what they are reading as well as what they are browsing and searching for. The values of privacy and confidentiality regarding what our members are reading and accessing are at risk here, and I don’t believe that as a profession this is being given the consideration it deserves. I also don’t believe we’re adequately talking about these issues publicly.

    I’m not entirely opposed to boycotts, but I think that is a fairly desperate and negative way of approaching the problem. The key here is my comment on ALIA and IFLA policies,which I will probably flesh out a bit more in a future post. By shackling librarians to support copyright (even only in principle) ALIA is preventing us from rejecting copyright in favour of a better system that achieves the same aims. Specifically, IFLA policy rejects Public Lending Right because it is seen as an extension of basic copyright and a potential brake on libraries’ ability to obtain and circulate stock. Both of these positions assume that copyright is the only and best way to encourage creative output and reward authors. I don’t think this is the right policy for library professionals. Public Lending Right could quite easily remain without maintaining the restrictions of copyright as it currently stands – as system I feel would be better.

    So the is my long-winded way of saying your prediction is half-right, but my point was really that librarians as a profession need to be vocal around the idea of copyright, DRM and the rights and rewards for authors. The only viable direction for ebook prices is downwards. The value that traditional publishers, or indeed any publishers, add to the dissemination of texts is diminishing. The barriers between our members and the texts they want are increasingly artificial and the transactions we enable are increasingly tainted. Let’s talk about that.

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