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ONLINE SEARCHER: Information Discovery, Technology, Strategies

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Values of Information Freedom
Volume 37, Number 3 - May/June 2013

Freedom of access to information, freedom of speech, and freedom of expression are foundational for most librarians. Our library associations worldwide support these tenets as basic to the profession. These freedoms form the basis of a democratic society and an informed citizenry; theynot just library ideals.

The first few months of 2013 have seen interesting developments in this area. The U.S. Supreme Court, in its Wiley v. Kirtsaeng ruling, upheld the doctrine of first sale as it applies to copyrighted works made legally outside the United States. Librarians holding non-U.S. published books in their collections were greatly relieved, as were second-hand booksellers. Digital first sale, however, received a blow in the Southern District Court of New York, where the intellectual property decision went against ReDigi. Digital copies of copyrighted works are not legal for resale. Although the lawsuit concerned digitized music, by implication it affects ebooks as well. Don’t expect to see any of those on the shelves of a used bookstore or in the library’s next book sale.

When it comes to fair use, the legal situation can be confusing. The New York Southern District Court also ruled against Meltwater Group and in favor of The Associated Press to uphold AP’s claim that Meltwater violated its copyright when scraping the free web for news stories. Using lengthy excerpts without paying for them doesn’t qualify as fair use. Meltwater had better luck in the U.K. There the Supreme Court ruled that individuals opening news articles weren’t in copyright violation. The individuals in question are Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) members, and PRCA is a Meltwater customer. At what point do fair use, intellectual property rights, and freedom of access to information collide?

Free speech isn’t governed solely by law. A new code of conduct from Library and Archives Canada warns federal librarians and archivists that “teaching, speaking at conferences, and other personal engagements” are risky behaviors that could result in disciplinary actions. It also sees blogging as dangerous and a possible violation of federal employees’ “duty of loyalty.”

On a positive note, the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) took a stand on values. Two blog posts at The Scholarly Kitchen, both written by Kent Anderson with comments about Edwin Mellen Press (EMP), were removed after EMP threatened legal action. The SSP refused to be intimidated and decided to restore the posts, citing freedom of expression.

Transcending legal concerns, Translators Without Borders reminds us that freedom of access to information isn’t worth much if you can’t read it, don’t understand how to evaluate it, or have no frame of reference to interpret its meaning.

Information professionals face contentious issues that balance freedom and privacy, free speech and intellectual property rights, individual rights and corporate profits. Infor mation professionals should be on the front lines of defending fair use, freedom of speech, and freedom of access to information, while also guarding intellectual property rights and privacy. Those are our values.

Marydee Ojala is Editor-in-Chief of Online Searcher (the successor journal to ONLINE) and writes its business research column ("The Dollar Sign"). She has contributed feature articles and news stories to Information TodayEContentComputers in LibrariesIntranetsCyberSkeptic's Guide to the InternetBusiness Information Review, and Information Today's NewsBreaks. A long-time observer of the information industry, she speaks frequently at conferences, such as WebSearch University, Internet Librarian, Online Information (London, UK), Internet Librarian International, and national library meetings outside the U.S. She has adjunct faculty status at the School of Library and Information Science at IUPUI (Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis). Her professional career began at BankAmerica Corporation, San Francisco, directing a worldwide program of research and information services. She established her independent information research business in 1987. Her undergraduate degree is from Brown University and her MLS was earned at the University of Pittsburgh.


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