Sue the libraries!

October 18, 2007

There’s an excellent article in today’s Technology Guardian, asking why the likes of the RIAA have not sued public libraries, since they can so easily disseminate digital media. As the author puts it, “they are the institutions which have the longest experience of making copyright goods available fairly to people who have not paid directly for them; and in all the time libraries have been around, no one has come up with a better model”. Right on!

The author, Andrew Brown, goes on to make a case for libraries in general as valuable in the digital age, since they can provide repositories for electronic information, and access to databases such as JSTOR.  Individual access to the likes of JSTOR would be prohibitively expensive; using a library one can gain access for a tiny tax payment. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future libraries (or something like them) will become the hubs for electronic information?

It’s really refreshing to hear libraries talked about in such a positive fashion, and something of an antidote to the doom and gloom that so often is the tone of commentary on the field.

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4 Responses to “Sue the libraries!”

  1. person Says:

    They haven’t sued because libraries don’t copy copyrighted materials illegally. They lend legally purchased ones. This is explicitly allowed under the Copyright Act. So it’s pretty simple stuff, no mystery here. Other things like databases are licensed, and the contracts tell the library what it can and cannot do legally.

  2. Woeful Says:

    I recently read a quote somewhere about DRM, where an author commented that the RIAA should just chill the hell out because libraries have been “pirating” authors for time immemorial and you don’t hear any authors complaining about it. He actually likened libraries distribution method to Napster. Sadly, I can’t remember the the name of the author, or where it appeared. 😦

  3. neilstewart Says:

    Person- I think the article’s argument is that libraries act like Napster in allowing the circulation of copyrighted works, as Woeful mentions. It’s not so much that libraries go around copying materials, but that instead they give people the facility to do so.

  4. person Says:

    Society, not libraries, allows the circulation of copyrighted works. That is a basic liberty–copyright controls only copying, display and distribution, not circulation. If you own a copyrighted work you are able to lend it, sell it, etc.

    Libraries give people the facility to copy materials in the same way record stores and book stores do. They do not set up remote networks for sharing (for audio, at least!). Copying from the library is very labor-intensive compared to downloading via p2p, bittorrent, etc. And it is perfectly legal. The library legally acquires particular copies and lends those copies. These are all points clear to most people who write about these things.


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