Schools and the Copyright Knowledge Gap
By K. Matthew Dames
Years from now, once librarians gain the benefit of
perspective fostered by temporal separation, we will consider 2005 a watershed
year. Certainly, epochal change has been discussed for some time, but last
year, a series of events ensured that information switched its dominant format
from analog to digital. Consider the following:
Last September, a consortium of
publishers and writers sued Google, alleging the search giant’s Book Search
digitization project infringed upon several of the publishers’ exclusive
copyright rights (http://books.google.com).
Last November, the Library of
Congress announced its creation of the World Digital Library, an online
collection of rare books,
manuscripts, and other materials that will be freely available for viewing by
anyone, anywhere, with Internet access.
Inspired by Project Gutenberg (the
Web’s first and largest collection of e-books), Hugh McGuire created LibriVox,
a project whereby volunteers record chapters of books in the public domain then
transfer those recordings into MP3 files that are available for free on the Web (http://www.librivox.org).
Last May, an associate university
librarian at the UCLA Library announced that the library would no longer buy
540 print titles but, instead, get those titles exclusively in electronic
format, a move that was part of a cost-cutting initiative.
For at least 18 months, murmurs
from the Association of American Publishers (AAP) have focused on alleged
illegalities about how university systems administer their electronic course
reserve collections. Although AAP has yet to file a lawsuit, the Section 108
Study Group is preparing findings for the Librarian of Congress (http://www.digitalpreservation.gov/
about/pr_051305.html). The findings, which
are due by mid-2006, will investigate possible changes to Section 108 of the
Copyright Act, the law that provides copyright exceptions for libraries and
archives. If the group does not develop recommendations that the publishing
industry approves, the industry may launch a campaign similar to the music
industry’s lawsuits against alleged illegal file sharers.
Each of these events affects libraries in significant ways,
and all of them involve a complex understanding of copyright law. From
digitization projects to interlibrary loan and from electronic reserves to
electronic books, copyright law is having an impact on librarianship.
Why have the nation’s accredited graduate library science
programs categorically failed to provide copyright law instruction?
I first noticed the absence of comprehensive copyright
education in librarianship in the summer of 2002, a year after I graduated from
Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies. When I proposed creating a
seminar called Digital Copyright for Librarians to Syracuse
administrators, I noted that some schools offered a broad information policy
course that included a copyright component, but no American Library Association
(ALA)-accredited program offered a seminar that addressed copyright law within
the context of library and information science. Fortunately, my alma mater
decided to accept my proposal to teach such a course; I have been teaching a
weeklong graduate copyright seminar at the school since 2003.
Given the critical copyright issues for libraries—the
Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the Uniform Commercial Information
Transactions Act (UCITA), the Eldred case fighting the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act,
and the Section 108 Study Group—I had hoped our nation’s library schools
would have made copyright education a priority. Instead, I found an alarming
absence of education in this area.
Out of the 49 ALA-accredited graduate library science
programs in the continental U.S., I found only two schools—Syracuse
University and Emporia State University in Kansas—that offer a copyright
course. In fact, less than half (only 24 of the 49 schools) offer a course that
addresses information policy or legal issues on any level. Even if we expanded
the scope of inquiry beyond copyright to policy issues such as the USA PATRIOT
Act or patron confidentiality, half the accredited programs provide no instruction
for such critical library management issues.
Finally, ALA’s own document “Guidelines for Choosing a
Master’s Program in Library and Information Studies” (http://www.ala.org/ala/accreditation/
not provide information about the need for special training, including training
in copyright education or information policy work.
Given the importance of copyright issues in daily
professional librarianship and library advocacy, it speaks poorly for our
profession that so many librarians enter the workforce without proper grounding
in copyright, the legal construct that governs the creation, reproduction,
distribution, and repurposing of information. To quote Hamlet (while freely availing myself of
public domain privileges), “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
Copyright knowledge is as integral a part of the contemporary information
science education as cataloging or reference. Failing to provide that training
for today’s library science students is akin to having students pay money for
an incomplete degree.
New IT columnist K. Matthew Dames, doctorate of jurisprudence, holds
an M.L.S. and is the executive editor of CopyCense (http://www.copycense.com),
an online publication that covers the intersection of business, law, and
technology. He also is an adjunct professor at Syracuse University’s School of
Information Studies. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Send your comments about this column to email@example.com.