Thoughts about copyright

I’m currently working, in another tab on my browser, on a resource page of videos about copyright. As part of that, I realised there’s a bit of personal background I wanted to talk about, but that doesn’t fit the goal of that page. So, here it is.

My contradictory background:

I spend a lot of my personal life in several communities where resources and wonderful stuff are widely shared (generally with an ethic of respecting the creator’s preferences) while recognising that current copyright law has some pretty serious flaws. And of course, my professional life is in a world where use of copyrighted work in an educational context is terribly confusing and often contradictory, even though some kinds of use clearly improve learning, understanding, and connection with amazing resources and creators. The current methods for using a work while respecting the effort of the creator are confusing, complicated, and often too expensive (both in time/energy and in things like licensing fees) for individual teachers or smaller schools to negotiate well, even with the best of intentions.

I’m also the child of a father whose published and unique creative work created a meaningful financial benefit for his family (though it was never his primary income). As an adult, I have created a variety of material, some of which I share freely, some of which has more restrictions for various reasons. I have friends and acquaintances who spend time creating creative work for many and various reasons, but who need to sometimes use the law to protect their livelihood, or use of their material in ways that can be anywhere from confusing to utterly misleading or even risky (for example, I have friends who’ve had instructional materials copied without the relevant safety or background information.)

I recognise that copyright does help with the creation of works of larger scope and time, as well as giving creators some legal options if their work (and time, and effort) are abused. (And I have some book-length projects I’d like to tackle where committing that kind of time and energy is only sensible for me if I have some control over the finished product’s distribution.)

And I’ve handled DMCA removal requests in multiple settings over the years. I think the DMCA is an even more flawed law than copyright in general, because the practicalities of the law make certain kinds of legal responses anywhere from effectively impossible to very expensive – something most individuals can’t address. I’ve also seen it used as a club to shut down responses to discussion, to make life difficult for someone on the wrong side of an online argument, and much more in that vein. And yet, it’s currently the only real tool for handling online situations where one person copies another person’s work without permission.

What I’d like:

I’d like a world with reasonably consistent copyright terms, limited to a length of time that allows the immediate personal heirs to benefit (20 or 25 years, perhaps, rather than the current complex system of 50 or 75 years from various dates.) Enough time that the infant child of an individual creator could reasonably have their needs as they grow supported by sales of the work. Not so much time that they are relying on it rather than making their own way in the world.

(I have friends who disagree with me on this one, and think copyright should end at death. I’ve known enough people – including my father – who were working on various projects while dying of terminal illnesses that I think something that protects rights for a period of time after death is only sensible. Otherwise, these people will be more likely to go do something else like spend all their remaining time with their family, and everyone else loses out on their take on that project.)

I’d like a world where corporate copyrights were handled more sensibly. I want companies who do great research, and create wonderful works of art, and do other nifty things, to be rewarded. That’s only sensible. But I think that copyright law should also recognise that they have a certain benefit of scale that individual creators do not have the same access to.

I’d like a world where tracking down the copyright holder was a pretty simple thing to do – a central registry that could be accessed in a relatively trivial manner. (The technology’s there for it now: we just don’t have the collected data stored in a way that makes those connections easy.) Such a registry would also make it easier for people who, for example, were fine with non-profit uses to give quick permission.

And I definitely want a system where handling misuse of someone’s material online were much improved – in terms of the creator identifying their own work, in terms of having misused material removed quickly and easily, and in terms of handling malicious and incorrect complaints well. Again, the technology is there: I would cheerfully pay a yearly fee to dump my blog posts and other submitted materials into a third-party registry that date and time stamps them, so that any future complaint could be compared against that registered material, if it meant I knew I could handle any material used without permission quickly and easily.

I’m a realist: I don’t think I’m going to get any of these things, any time soon. But one can hope – and more importantly, one can take steps towards all of these things over time.

Links of interest: March 4, 2011

One of the huge issues this week was the ongoing conversation (and sometimes argument) about eBooks and libraries. As you may know, OverDrive (the primary seller of eBook services to libraries) sent out a letter late last week with some concerning news: namely, that Harper Collins wanted to significantly change its ebook terms, so that once you ‘buy’ an ebook to be distributed via Overdrive, it could only circulate 26 times, and then no more. (And in addition, that it would remain checked out for the full length of the loan term, even if the reader ‘returned’ it, and could not be read by multiple readers at once – in other words, not taking advantage of the digital nature of the product.)

Lots of people have great posts on this.

All have some additional good points in the comments.

I’ve seen some people ask where the 26 number comes from. I seem to recall from my library school days that that’s the average number of circulations a hardcover book gets before it needs to be retired for practical reasons (the binding’s falling apart, pages are missing, it suffers an unfortunate mishap, etc.) However, as anyone with basic statistics knowledge can figure out, a lot of books circulate a lot less than that (and therefore do interesting things to the average), and therefore some books also circulate many more times than that, without problems. Picking it as the number for an ebook circulation is therefore even more problematic than it first appears.

Copyright notes:

Brian at Swiss Army Librarian notes that the Copyright Clearance Center has released a new video called “Copyright on Campus”. He also links to several past videos they’ve done. These are a great resource, and about as fun as anything about copyright is probably going to manage to get.  (Note: there’s stuff they don’t address, but there’s only so much you can do in 5 minute videos.)

Other interesting notes:

Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me (my favorite new quiz show) has a fascinating post on their blog on why they spell “Gadhafi” that way (as opposed to the 36 other variations out there – the challenge of translating from one alphabet and language into others.) The answer goes back to a letter from Minnesota school children back in 1986.

Doug Johnson has a great post about ways to make research assignments more interesting to students that are very much along my own preferences in this area for two reasons: first, boredom does not lead to great learning, and secondly, learning how to research and evaluate topics you’re interested in has much broader lifelong learning implications than learning how to do academic papers.

(It’s not that academic papers are a bad skill – I still think we ought to teach it, and ask students to do it on an ongoing basis. But that shouldn’t be the only kind of research we teach. Realistically, how often do you do that kind of academic-paper research once you graduate, unless you become an academic? Compared to how often you’re going to get interested in a subject and want to learn more for your own pleasure, or do research to improve your health, or because you’re travelling somewhere, or whatever else?)

Doug also has a post about whether we’re communicating in places where people are listening – something I want to take on here in the near future. (I’m a big believer in the idea that different kinds of technology do different things well, and we should pick the ones that work.)

Dear Author, one of the major romance genre blogs, takes on the question of “When does a reader know too much?” – in other words, how is the reading experience affected by having seen an author interact online, whether that’s a problematic way, an overly personal way, or even a very positive way?

And finally, Cassandra, writing on the DailyKos (not a place you normally expect to see this) has a lovely ode to the role of the public library in her rural Appalachian community, and why the internet access the library supplies is so critical in particular.

Links of interest: November 12, 2010

Back for another round of links. (I do have some other things in the works, but they’re not quite gelling the way I’d like yet. I hope for next week; topics include a post on tech I use and why, and on the broad question of being a good librarian.)

I came across the In the Library With A Lead Pipe blog/journal due to their posts on librarian workspaces, but I’m thinking even more about about their post “X”, which is about pseudonymity and anonymity in professional (specifically library) communities.

Living online:

Anne Collier and Larry Magid have released a new version of their (free) Parents’ Guide to Facebook. Doug Johnson has a nice summary, with links to the PDF book. It’s got some great advice on specific privacy settings and considerations, and is well worth reading whether or not you have kids, if you use Facebook.

I caught an interesting piece on Talk of the Nation yesterday on NPR as I was driving, on how much employers can limit worker’s behavior – in particular, in online settings. You can read the transcript or listen to the piece (about half an hour) at the NPR site.

danah boyd wrote a fascinating piece on teenagers choosing risk reduction behaviors for online interaction that seem really odd at first glance (in one case, deleting everything posted after a short period of time, in another case, disabling the account entirely whenever she’s offline.) And yet, as danah points out, they make perfect sense in context.

Followup on last week’s stories about Cooks Source:

And other links of potential interest:

Links of interest: October 29, 2010

Learning outcomes : Iris Jastram talks about an insight she had about using learning outcomes to do better user instruction, and Jenica Rogers has some more ideas about applying that to the work of the library as a whole.

Technology and the librarian : Michael Stephens, on the MLIS faculty at Dominican University, has begun writing a new column for Library Journal. His first column talks about the need for library students (and librarians) to be comfortable using (and use) online communication, beyond the closed systems of classes and workplaces. Various people, including Angel Rivera have commented about it. (I’ve got more thoughts about this one, but they’re still gelling.)

Steampunk considerations: Nisi Shawl has a great article at Tor.com on some of the issues of steampunk in terms of reflecting the experiences of people of color in that reimagined world. She talks about what she’s writing to explore that, and also links to a bunch of other fascinating resources.

When the library’s not handy: Hugo, Minnesota (a suburb of St. Paul) which has no town library has instituted a Library Express program: programmed lockers outside of City Hall which allow residents to pick up books they’ve reserved. A Wall Street Journal article talks about this and some other similar programs in other places, which also talks about the complications of shorter library hours due to funding cutbacks, and library patrons who still want to use resources.

Conference notes: Sarah Houghton-Jan of Librarian in Black went to the Internet Librarian 2010 conference and made lots of useful posts on presentations – everything on learning from failure to the community as center of the community, to great free tools for cash-strapped libraries.

Time-consuming reference: Brian Herzog talks about doing triage on reference questions in a public library setting. Not only having circulation staff handle some things, and then refer to reference librarians for more detailed needs (common if the reference desk is not obvious or as available as the circ desk) but also how to handle the much more complex questions that take 15 or 30 minutes to handle.

How much management is just right? Jenica Rogers has a great post on what she’s learned in her first 17 months as Director of Libraries. She focuses on the problems of micromanaging – or more specifically, how she doesn’t want to, but other people want her to give more direct guidance and direction on a day to day basis, and how that needs to be balanced against her own work.

Interesting resources:

  • Two additional ways to search Flickr: FlickrStorm goes beyond your initial search by finding other items that might fit and Compfight makes it easier to find creative commons items and original images.
  • OpenFolklore is a project of the American Folklore Society to make materials more widely available for study and learning.
  • The Wisebaden Codex of Hildegard von Bingen’s work is now available digitally. Click the manuscript page image to get into the document reader. (Things that make the medievalist bits of my brain happy!)

Links of interest – September 17, 2010

danah boyd had an interesting post earlier this week on a different side of the question of online identity: do your name your child something that’s uniquely identifying (meaning they have to learn about managing their online identity very early), or something more common (where there could be a number of people with that name.)

As someone whose first name – Jennifer – was the most popular name for girls in the entire decade I was born, but whose last name is a lot less common, at least in the US, I sort of split the difference. But it did mean I started using other user names in places where I didn’t necessarily want to use my last name pretty early on, because knowing my first name and last name and general area of the country was, for about a decade, a pretty easy way to dig up my address.

Not So Distant Future has a great post about who we should be including in the conversation when we talk about education – more specifically, a letter to NBC about not having included actual teachers in their upcoming series.

The copy this blog has a post on some common myths and misperceptions about copyright – fairly complex ones. The link in the first paragraph to a previous post on a similar topic is also well worth reading.

I’ve been fascinated by web usability for a long time, and there’s a recent new detailed post about why some of the things that have been common wisdom in usability may be changing (or not true in the first place). With links to data and studies and other useful things of that kind. It gave me a kick to go plan the redesign of a site I maintain for a community education organisation for better usability. Jessamyn, who linked to this post as well, also has a recommendation for a document from Usability.gov .

Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Research Librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind

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