This is something that’s been rattling around my brain for a while. As an information professional, I am required to care about copyright. I am required to at least try to make sure the lawyers in my firm abide my our CLA licence, and I am required to follow the rules myself (of course). However, I wonder sometimes if it’s really worth it. It gets a bit dispiriting sometimes to have to be the one who cares about copyright, when it is painfully obvious that no one else does.
Before I am accused of writing deliberately inflammatory blog titles , I should point out that I am quoting verbatim from someone at my firm. Without going in to too many details, this individual wanted to use a contract that another lawyer was using at the same time. They suggested a solution to this problem that, while practical, was illegal. When I pointed this out to them, the title to this blog was the response I received.
I didn’t comply with their request at this time (although I strongly suspect that after I refused to help, they simply did it themselves – nothing I can do about that!), but I will admit that I have occasionally bent the rules for our library users. The problem that I have is that if a lawyer asks me to do something, and I tell them that it can’t be done due to copyright/licensing restrictions, I become the obstacle in their eyes. It’s not a question of legality to our users – if I can’t legally supply a document in the format they require, then from their perspective I am simply being obstructive.
I have heard some stories from other librarians about trying to explain/enforce copyright restrictions that put my experience into perspective. For example, I have never heard a user assert that if something is published online, it is automatically free from copyright! I did once, in a previous job, try to explain to an American law student why she couldn’t actually photocopy an entire, 300+ page textbook (apart from the practicalities!), only to have her respond, indignantly, that “in America, copyright doesn’t apply to students!” (that’s not true, right?). I suppose I’d expected that lawyers, of all people, would appreciate “it’s against the law” as a reason not to do something. Perhaps a little naive of me..?
I was thinking about this when I saw this report from the British Library (yes, I know it’s a bit old – I’ve got lots to catch up with!). The report is on “Driving UK Research: is copyright a help or hindrance?” and it “brings together a range of views from leading researchers on how the framework for intellectual property needs reviewing for the digital age”. Although written from a scholarly perspective, it does touch on some of the attitudes I’ve found from legal practitioners. I’ve only skimmed through it so far, but I’m going to give it a more thorough read over the weekend.
Really though, as interesting as I find discussions of how to ensure that copyright and intellectual property laws remain relevant to the digital age, that isn’t actually my primary concern. Of more immediate importance to me, in terms of my day-to-day work, is how to get across to our library users that when I say I can’t simply copy and paste an article from the Financial Times into an email for them to send to a client, I’m not just being difficult. I don’t see the moral arguments of “someone worked to create that content, therefore they deserve to get paid for it, therefore we can’t just find ways around their paywall” as carrying much weight with a lawyer on a deadline! I’m interested in how librarians from all sectors handle this, as this is probably one of the few aspects of librarianship that applies to every sector. How do you explain to your users why you have to enforce copyright?