Tag Archives: manifesto

My ideal copyright term

Once upon a time, the Statute of Anne provided for a fixed copyright term of 14 years, extensible (if the copyright holder was still alive) for an additional term of 14 years.

Since then, copyright terms have ballooned to the point where:

  • in the US, nothing now in copyright will enter the public domain until 2019;
  • outside the US, HathiTrust, JSTOR and other content providers aren’t willing to give us access to material published after ~1872 (In New Zealand, 1872 material would only still be in copyright if an author who published when they were 20 lived to over 100);
  • we’re wondering whether the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations will make things even worse.

But how do you fight the Mickey Mouse Protection Act?

What I’d love to see is to go back to a copyright term of 14 years, but allow it to be renewed for additional terms of 14 years as many times as the copyright holder wants, as long as the copyright holder applies for the renewal before the expiry of the 14 years. (Maybe throw in a small renewal fee – say, the cost to the consumer of one full-priced copy of the work in question.) This would:

  • Get a whole heap of stuff into the public domain where it belongs;
  • Remove all incentive for large companies to repeatedly lobby for law changes;
  • Deal once and for all with the orphan works problem.

So Mickey Mouse would be in copyright forever; I don’t care, let them protect themselves into obscurity. The important thing is that it would stop them forcing the rest of us to starve the public domain as well.

How US intellectual property laws affect the rest of us, and what we can do about it

How can it affect us?
Imagine a New Zealand website which sells (eg Fishpond) or gives away (eg NZETC – Eric Hellman discusses Project Gutenberg Australia) ebooks of material in the public domain. Now imagine that a law in the US allows for this site not only to be blocked from the US, but also to be removed from search engine results (search engines widely used throughout the world) and blocked from receiving any revenue from the US (including revenue for legitimate sales of in-copyright books).

Wait, what?
New Zealand’s copyright law puts books in the public domain 50 years after the death of the author (which is bad enough – I’m a fan of our original copyright period of 28 years OR life, whichever was longest); US copyright law currently means any book published after 1923 won’t get into the public domain until 2019, if ever (see also the Mickey Mouse Protection Act). The difference between the two means there’s a whole bunch of books which are legal for anyone to freely distribute in New Zealand, but illegal to distribute without permission from the rights-holder in the US. Currently we just cope with the disparity. I mean, the authors have been dead for at least 50 years anyway. However…

What are the proposed US laws?
The proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is written such that if any foreign site that is “US-directed” (defined as any site that doesn’t actively prevent people in the US from accessing it) distributes anything against US law, then the US can hit it with a bunch of sanctions. Theoretically these sanctions are probably intended to just prevent the site trading with people in the US; in practice, they’d prevent people in most of the world being able to easily access or use the site.

I’m not sure of the relationship of SOPA to the proposed Protect IP Act (PIPA), but that seems to have similar intentions. “Don’t Break the Internet” at the Stanford Law Review Online discusses the potential effects of these two bills.

If that’s not bad enough, there’s the proposed Research Works Act (RWA) which is designed to make open access mandates illegal – and thereby cut down on the amount of open access material available to researchers worldwide. (The rationale is that private publishers publish it, so it shouldn’t be free to the public. But if the public is funding the research grants and paying the salaries of the researchers and the peer reviewers then why it shouldn’t be locked behind a paywall benefitting only the private publisher, either.) Here’s a thorough roundup of blogposts on RWA.

Who would want to do such a thing?
The Association of American Publishers’ Professional and Scholarly Publishing put out a press release in support of the RWA; here’s a list of AAP/PSP members. One of the sponsors of RWA has received campaign contributions from Elsevier. So has the other.

Elsevier is also on the List of SOPA supporters (pdf) along with quite a lot of other publishers (academic and fiction).

What can we do about it?
If we voted in the US we could contact our representatives and ask them to vote against these bills. But they probably don’t care much what foreigners think.

If this were really a free market we libraries could say “Nah, we’re not going to buy from [Elsevier] this year, we’ll give our money to some other science-publishing company.” But publishers have a monopoly on their titles, and academics would generally have words to say if we didn’t provide access to the Journal of Important Research in My Field.

But publishers don’t only rely on libraries’ purchasing money. They also rely on researchers (including non-US researchers, and including library researchers) providing them free articles to publish and providing them free labour in the form of peer review. So what any researcher can do is withdraw that free labour. And while we librarians are encouraging other researchers to take a stand, we can put our money where our mouth is.

For the record, I personally am not going to publish anything unless either a) I get to CC-license it or at least put a copy in my institution’s open access repository; or b) I get paid for it (unlikely in the scholarly publishing world, but relevant for fiction). Tenure’s not an issue for me so I demand either fame or fortune before I give my work away.

(I’ll create it for fun. But to give it away I require something more.)

Possible topics for crowd-sourced research

Since first talking about this I’ve been pondering what topics would make good candidates to try out the model. I think it should be something that:

  1. is of interest to as many people as possible; and
  2. can be contributed to by as many people as possible;
  3. as easily as possible.

With these criteria in mind I’ve come up with two possible ideas:

A. Trends in patrons’ use of electronic equipment in the library
This is basically an extension of the article that inspired my thinky thoughts to start with, which did headcounts to measure laptop use in their library. We could extend this to, say, a headcount of

  • total people, of course;
  • users of library computers;
  • users of personal laptops;
  • PDAs;
  • cellphones;
  • and a handy ‘other’ category.

We could decide what time(s)/day(s) to run the headcount on, set up an online spreadsheet, and anyone wanting to participate could do their headcount and enter the data into the spreadsheet. Whether people can only participate once, or can do it recurrently, there’ll be value either way. It’s simple and quantitative and easy.

B. Librarians’ perceptions of the quality of vendor training
(ie training provided by vendors in the use of their products to librarians, in case that’s not clear)
This is. Perhaps a delicate topic. I’ve been thinking for a while about blogging about my own perceptions, all aggregated and anonymised but it still feels a bit “bite the hand that holds all our resources”, because my perceptions are not good. But perhaps it would be less awkward if it came from a whole lot of librarians. And vendors are starting to respond more and more to concerns raised in social media so maybe it would actually get some attention and help vendors provide better training.

OTOH this would be an inherently messy topic to research. It’d be a good test of whether crowdsourcing a qualitative research topic could work, but perhaps not a good test of whether crowdsourcing research per se is workable. There’d need to be a lot of discussion about what exactly we want to research:

  • Likert scales of measures on eg amount of new info, amount of info already known, familiarity of trainer with database, ability of trainer to answer questions…?
  • more freeform answers about problems with presentations eg slides full of essays, trainer bungles example searches…?
  • surveying trainers themselves to find out what kind of training they get in how to give a good presentation?

So, for anyone interested in going somewhere with this — or just interested in reading the results — what do you think? Topic A, topic B, topic C (insert your own topic here), or all of the above?

Crowdsourcing library research

Reading Snapshots of Laptop Use in an Academic Library crystallised some thinky thoughts I’ve vaguely had for a while about the possibility of libraries working together on library research.

The very short version of the article is that in their library “28% of students used laptops in existing spaces in 2005, while 62% of students used laptops in the same spaces in 2008”. But of course they’re not sure exactly what’s causing the change. Is it just the changing times? Changing university policy? Changing library spaces? Something in the water? When you’ve only got one datapoint – your own library – it’s hard to see what the real trend is.

But if you had the same data from a whole bunch of libraries then you’d be able to get a better idea of the nationwide/global trends. And if your data was different from that trend, you’d be able to get a better idea of how your local circumstances are affecting what’s going on.

I’ve had thinky thoughts in the past about libraries sharing their statistics and research and stuff and part of the problem I recognised then was that everyone counts different statistics, so results aren’t always comparable.

But. What if, when we want to do this kind of research, instead of doing it in-house, we open it up:

  1. stick up a wiki where we can collaborate with a pile of other libraries on deciding the methodology,
  2. stick up a Google spreadsheet where participating libraries can enter their stats,
  3. ???
  4. profit Publish!

Potential for awesomesauce, yes/yes? Does anyone have any burning research questions they’d like to try this with? Because my burning research question is currently “Let’s do it!” which, um, technically isn’t a question.

More on sharing

Yesterday we presented our conference feedback and I launched my “Let’s share everything!” manifesto. By the end of the session we were running late so we eschewed taking questions in favour of adjourning for lunch, but the idea’s out there and hopefully percolating. In the meantime I have LibGuides, focus groups, lesson plans, institutional repository verification, liaison, maybe-Facebook, hopefully-podcast, and oh-yes-outreach to set up before first semester starts.

But the other day I was reading (via LibraryTechNZ) a paper on IM a Librarian: Extending Virtual Reference Services through Instant Messaging and Chat Widgets. This linked to an open source tool and I navigated back up the chain to find a page the University of Nevada Las Vegas Libraries has set up a page of open source software projects they’ve been working on. So there’s one more precedent for the list.

And the fact that I came across it by such a chain of links has convinced me that, valuable as it is to get the stuff up onto the web anywhere, the real value will come when we can pool all of it into one place for easy findability.

Libraries and sharing

In December last year Dale Askey wrote a Code4Lib column, We Love Open Source Software. No, You Can’t Have Our Code which raised some discussion for a while.

But of course it’s not just software.

Oh, I haven’t personally experienced libraries refusing to share information. In fact when I was researching our “Library on Location” project, everyone I contacted was more than happy to give me stories, photos, even survey data. But… I did have to track them down from oblique references in old blogs and newsletters and email them, one by one.

And we put our own Library on Location reports online, which I’m glad we could do. But… we had to ask if we could do it, and only our conference paper is in any kind of official repository sort of space.

Is this consistent with our profession’s attempts to convince academics to put their research papers and data into institutional repositories?

And is it an efficient, librarian-like way of organising the accumulated knowledge within the profession?

User surveys.
Projects that work.
Projects that don’t work.
Projects that might work but we ran out of funding.
Projects that would work if we could share the workload with another institution.

This might have been why the Library Success wiki was created. It’s a great idea, but its contributors are individuals, not libraries, so it just doesn’t have the kind of oomph I’m thinking about.

What if…

What if every library in the world brought their anonymised circulation data, their IM reference statistics, their anonymised usability testing and survey results, their project reports, their lesson plans and handouts, and their iPhone applications out from their hard drives and their intranets and made them publically accessible?

What if they all licensed this stuff (and photos and podcasts and vidcasts and…) with a Creative Commons or GPL license?

What if they all created a single website where this stuff could be stored and searched in one place?

What if that website allowed space for libraries and librarians to comment and collaborate on and add to each other’s work?

No, seriously, I mean it

At the end of the month my library’s delegates to LIANZA2008 are going to report back to the rest of the staff about what we got out of the conference. I got 4 things out of conference, 3 of which were:

  1. Leadership – future taking vs future making
  2. Innovation – just do it
  3. Why are they presenting on this topic when we’ve gone further in our analogous project and have more experience of how it works in practice? Oh yes: because it never occurred to us to share.

So in my allotted 5 minutes of the reporting back, I plan to pitch the idea that we should move all our (sanitised if need be) project work from the intranet to open webspace.

What about the rest of the world?