Monday, 2 June 2008

I fought the law and the law won

I've been thinking alot about the law lately. Learning about copyright law was not really on the PDPP but it's become an issue, not only with the objective to improve access to the journals collection but also because I seem to be doing more and more document supply. I've never really understood copyright in libraries before. I was aware that I had to get declaration forms signed and the limits on copying but never really understood the "why".

Things are a bit different working for a corporate library than in the public sector because of the nature of requests for document supply. In a public library, the chances are that most users are requesting documents for non-commercial research or private study. Copyright declaration forms are signed as a formality so that libraries can prove in law that they have supplied non-copyright cleared articles in good faith. If the user then uses the information in a commercial way then the responsibility is theirs because the library have a record to show that they stated the document was for private use only. In a corporate library, you have to assume that most of the articles are being supplied for commercial purposes. Luckily, the British Library (my main document supplier) make it really easy to pay copyright. Anything I get from the British Library, I get copyright cleared as you have to assume that the information will be used in a commercial way. Ok, so somebody could be using it for private study but what if they then go on to use that intellectual capital in a product that gets patented? It's just easier to get everything cleared. In a way, this makes life really easy. If you've paid the copyright, just keep a record of the request and the user no need for getting copyright declaration forms signed as the copyright's been paid.

But what about copying from journals that the library takes or document supply from more local sources? I think working in a corporate library makes supplying copies from your own stock a bit more complicated. In a public library it is permissible to copy from your own stock within the limits of fair dealing and library privilege as long as you obtain a copyright declaration from the user. In a corporate library you have to assume that the use is going to be commercial - so you need a mechanism to pay copyright. This basically means that you need a copyright licensing agreement. These are dished out by the CLA and are normally negotiated by the company lawyers. The chances are most big companies don't consult their librarians when negotiating an agreement and they tend to be based on numbers of employees or types of job roles. It's then up to the CLA to share the wealth (the revenue from the fee for the License) with the publishers.

I have to say that I don't like this system. It works fine for organisations as a whole but libraries have specialised copying requirements that may fall outside of their company's CLA. If this is the case then the library has to refuse to copy on the grounds that they would be breaking the law. Users often find this hard to understand and may think that librarians are being unnecessarily over-cautious (or even wilfully obstructive). It would be great if there were a kind of pay-per-copy option available. In the States, some vendors are setting themselves up in this way as brokers between publishers, licensing agencies and information providers and using technology to make direct payments to publishers as items are copied. This is kind of getting there but it cuts library collections out of the loop - these vendors have access to huge collections and basically supply copyright cleared copy's (as well as putting their profit on top). What would be great, is if there was a mechanism for libraries to copy from their own collections but also pay copyright fees (outside of their company's CLA's). That way it would be possible to supply outside of "approved" lists, and, with modern technology this sort of system shouldn't be beyond the CLA.

So what have I learned from all of this? Well, where copyright is concerned I've learned that it's good to talk. For example, supplying British Standards from the local public library service should be a real no-no but talking to the user, it turned out that their use was for a private project and not for commercial gain. The user was really happy that I could supply the documents (after getting a signed declaration!) and (as there was no cost to the library) it was quite satisfying to be able to use my knowledge of local resources to help somebody out. Another example of talking was to a lawyer who uses the library. This was a kind of informal chat about whether my idea of blogging journal t.o.c.'s would be legal. His advice was to seek official guidance from the specialist who deals with the CLA. As it turned out this was really good advice as the service as I had envisaged it would have infringed copyright. Not all bad though as the copyright lawyer was able to explain the limits of the CLA so that the service can be adapted to be comply with it. The most important thing that I have learnt is that corporate librarians can't work with the same norms of copyright as public librarians. It's always best to check with your legal people before developing anything as basically, if you're a corporate librarian, you are going to be governed by your CLA (fair dealing and library privilage are concepts that apply only to non commercial or private research). As CLA's are negotiated on an individual basis you need to talk to someone who knows the nature of yours.

I guess this also represents a change of attitude. I've always been really pro-freedom of information but, thinking about it, copyright is there to protect the intellectual property of authors, artists, etc from theft. It's right that company's using intellectual property should recompense the owner, although I'm not sure I'd apply this to personal use (for example copying music). Despite the title I still can't bring myself to agree with the music industry's extreme definition of pirating or the way that they fight their corner...

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