SOME COPYRIGHT CONCERNS
As I noted in the last issue, a case can be made that publishers are using copyright law to assert rights they never previously had. Certainly when they extended the copyright by another 20 years, taking back works already in the public domain, this was a major land grab, a stunning assertion of the rights of fortunate heirs of artists over the public interest, and it's amazing how little public protest this has inspired. In the case of E-books, publishers have asserted a right to control what we do with the book we have paid for, when we always used to have the right to pass a book on to our friends, or, of course, loan it out to a succession of library users. Now the music industry is asserting the same sort of post-purchase-control, and in the decision handed down against MP3 last week, courts are backing up the industry claim.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I own stock in MP3, which obviously tanked after the decision was handed down. But since I do believe in fair payment for the use of someone's creative endeavor, I didn't wish to own stock in any company that was flagrantly violating copyright, so I checked the matter out carefully. The actual bone of contention in the lawsuit was not the technology itself -- a technology the music industry itself wants to use for online sales. What was at issue was the new feature, "MY MP3," which allowed any user who had paid for a CD to listen to it online wherever they were.
You can see how that might be susceptible to abuse, and you can wonder, as the music industry did, about how effectively you can prove your ownership of a title online. The response of Michael Robertson, CEO of MP3, to the music industry complaint was: "Our service is nothing more than a virtual CD player. It is a new and innovative technology that lets people listen to their music. We have every intention of fighting your efforts to dictate the way people can use their music...But the question is, to whom does the music belong? When a consumer buys a CD, does the industry get to tell the consumer where she can listen to her music? The type of technology that she can use to play the CD? Whether she can use new Internet technologies? What about the fair use rights of the consumer...? Is it all about forcing consumers to use out-dated technologies to induce yet another CD sale?"
This is a far different proposition from Napster, which offers NO controls against people downloading every CD they own, for anybody in the world to copy in entirety, presenting the obvious nightmare scenario of only one copy of any album ever having to be actually paid for.
As defenders of the rights of artists, I actually prefer MP3 over the recording industry, since performers can post their music on the MP3 site to be purchased and downloaded directly, without an intermediary record company taking 90% of the profits.
But an even more interesting angle of this for me is the assumption both publishers and record companies are making: that every book or CD shared with a friend, and every item sold to a library, means lost sales. I guarantee you, the relationship between trying out a product and buying it is far more complex than that. (For starters, publishers owe libraries bigtime -- WE do more than anybody else to create eager readers for their books.)
I don't buy books I know nothing about; I buy them because I already know them, love them, and want to have my own personal copy. How do I come to love a book in this way? By reading a library copy, or a copy a friend has loaned me. My son is part of the generation that freely exchanges "mixed tapes," with selections from a wide range of favorite performers. For each mixed tape he gets, my son then goes on to buy as many as half a dozen CDs of performers he would otherwise have never heard of, let alone fallen in love with. Would he spend his current $100 a month on CDs without the mixed tapes his friends send him? No way. At $12.99 and up, he doesn't buy pigs in pokes.
Traditional publishers and music companies absolutely don't get the internet business model: make a reputation and money by giving away content for free. In short, I think what the e-book makers and music industry are doing is not only asserting a right they have never previously had about what we subsequently do with books and CDs we've purchased; they are pursuing a pennywise, pound-foolish strategy that ultimately keeps them from building new markets and winning the hearts and wallets of a younger generation.
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NOTES: Since ALA for the first time in years is meeting in my vicinity, I'm planning to go. I thought it would be fun to meet some of my readers and subscribers there, maybe get a table for dinner on that Sunday night. If you'd be interested, please send me an e-mail.
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SELECTING DUBIOUS MATERIALS
One of my New Zealand readers, Vicki Hyde, posed an interesting question to me about whether when we buy books/videos/journals, we are effectively endorsing them, saying, yes, this is reliable information. That's certainly what I've always assumed; as an academic librarian, I chose books that met recognized standards of proof and scholarship (especially if they were written in English rather than academicspeak). Whenever I linked in web sites, I was emphatically recommending those sites as authoritative sources.
On the other hand, since the purpose of our library was to support what our university taught, I was under no obligation to respond to demand for current popular material -- the latest books on Area 51, fad diets, miracle cures, and such. When we bought books on parapsychology, they were scholarly studies -- histories of the field, studies of the psychology of supernatural belief, and such.
The reason Vicki raises the question is this: "I come to this debate as head of the NZ Skeptics and I thought I'd talk to our library people about the sorts of images and implications, as a public person, I see the library having. This is in regard to, for example, classifying a book which covers dubious dangerous cancer cures as "medical innovations". To me there's a tacit endorsement there by the very nature of the choice of subject heading."
So I'd like to invite especially public librarians to tell me how you choose materials in subject areas like these. How do you judge, among thousands of new books on the supernatural, for instance, which ones have some degree of credibility? Or do you aim for a balanced representation of viewpoints, offsetting some of the dubious but high demand material with books by Martin Gardner and James Randi, or with journals like Skeptical Inquirer?
Or does the question even apply? As public librarians, you are more responsive to your readers' demands than academic librarians serving a curriculum goal. Do you simply supply what your readers ask for? Choose the most highly touted titles? Are there issues and selection principles that haven't even occurred to me? I am genuinely curious.
Vicki goes on to say: "My aim, having had a humungous amount of email from librarians all over the world, is to eventually produce a library support package recommending suitable material that would balance the vast amount of poor quality (if not downright misleading) information held on the shelves, and proposing some points to ponder. It wouldbe nice to have a positive outcome, even if what I have to say may be seen as challenging (in the general sense of the term!)."
Send your answers to . If I get a good round of responses, I'll mount the discussion in a future issue.
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Now, with my adolescence behind me and my daughter's still ahead, I am nearly speechless with gratitude for the endurance and goodwill of librarians in an era that discourages reading in almost incomprehensible ways.
Barbara Kingsolver. "How Mr. Dewey Decimal Saved My Life." In her collection of essays, High Tide in Tucson
You are welcome to copy and distribute or e-mail any of my own articles (but not those by my guest writers) as long as you retain this copyright statement:
Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 2000.