WHO IS COPYRIGHT EXTENSION FOR?
Al Hirschfeld, who's been delighting us with his caricatures of Broadway actors since the 1930's, died this week at the age of 99. Since 1945, when his daughter Nina was born and he started working her names into the hairdos and clothing folds in his cartoons, many generations have fought each other for the newspaper, eager to be the first to find all the Ninas (he always added a number to his signature telling people how many Ninas were embedded). Under the terms of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act -- life of the creator plus 70 years -- which the Supreme Court has said is merely unwise, not unconstitutional -- the cartoons Hirschfeld did in the 1930s will become part of the public domain in 2072, 140 years after they first appeared.
Or even later, if our legislators extend copyright yet again in the meantime, which they almost certainly will when the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, Steamboat Willie, once again becomes eligible for the public domain.
Who benefits from life plus 70 years? Not Hirschfeld. Not Nina, who can arguably be said to have contributed to his work but will herself be long dead by the time the copyright expires. Probably not his grandson, either, who will likely be dead or doddering by then. The benefits will most likely accrue to great- and great-great-grandchildren, who did nothing more to earn them than choosing their ancestors well.
The authors of the copyright term extension said that its purpose was to encourage authors and artists to create new works. Do you really think Hirschfeld was encouraged to create by the thought of enriching descendants he would never know? Or do you take him at his word -- that he kept drawing caricatures until the last days of his life because the work he did was the most fun he could imagine having?
NOTE: I was going to write an article about how forced staff reductions and the coming retirement of many of our librarians will result in the loss of institutional memory unless we go out of our way to write down what we know and pass it on to the young librarians we mentor. But I didn't have to write the article because I discovered this piece by Mary George, manager of the Rocklin Branch of the Placer County (CA) Library. She has graciously allowed me to reproduce it here.
THE ALIEN ABDUCTION THEORY OF MANAGEMENT
by Mary George
The Alien Theory is a simple philosophy. If aliens come and abduct any one of us, our library should be so intuitively organized that other librarians and clerical staff could easily adapt, run the show, and feel confident. All staff should be empowered to find necessary files; no one manager is the embodiment of all answers. It's a simple philosophy, but challenging to practice.
Crucial to the success of the theory is a collegial approach toward management. I have faith in my ability to hire talented people, who express opinions, ask why, offer solutions, occasionally complain, and always work hard. Since I actively recruit these traits it is only fair that I enthusiastically embrace them.
On my team, every staff member has a voice. My door is always open. In fact, I don't even have a door. This management style requires a lot of listening. It becomes necessary to synthesize and funnel opinions, strain comments through cheesecloth, and emerge with a cohesive idea. All staff must feel that their time spent agonizing over a challenge was met with courtesy. When I listen to my staff, when I pay attention to their moods, I am rewarded with a wealth of valuable observations. When I successfully implement their suggestions, I am offered their trust and respect, two of the most important gifts a staff can give to a manager.
However, this management style comes with a down side. On my team, every member has a voice and I am required to listen.
This can be exhausting. Sometimes when I "strain" ideas and comments, I lose the most important ingredient through the cheesecloth. When I become so busy that I cannot track the mood of my staff, sometimes I am surprised by their frustrations. Sometimes participation is mistaken for democracy, and I have to pull rank because in reality, I am accountable.
My management theory was tested last year when I fell and broke my knee. In essence, aliens HAD abducted me, and I remained off work for five months. When I returned to the library, I found that, while my staff missed me, they did not miss a library manager. There were no secrets I kept that caused them to panic when I was gone.
It was a proud moment for me. I was happy to know that I could be away and our library would not fall apart. In the future employees will retire, they will take other job opportunities, they will go on maternity leave, they will take long vacations, they may even break a knee.
But when they leave information should not leave with them. After all, library service is about access to information, not access to people with information.
It takes time to prepare for the aliens, but it is well worth the effort.
The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.
Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980), U.S. poet. "The Speed of Darkness," part 9, lines 3-4 (1958).
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Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 1999-2003.
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