September 19, 2008

Content-Yours, Theirs, and Ours

By West, Jessamyn Gordon, Rachel Singer

Moving from the world of purchased content to rented content creates new challenges and ways of thinking about our collections. While I'm of the cavalier opinion that small public libraries are unlikely to get sued by the RIAA, the MPAA, or the APA for listing the name of a movie in the newspaper or letting someone photocopy an entire magazine, licensing and copyright are the constraints we work within and around. Peter Hirtle, intellectual property officer for Cornell University Library, says he has heard that at his institution "the library is the single largest asset that the university owns." He has also said elsewhere "[I]t is a losing proposition for repositories to try to control subsequent use of material." The more we understand the value of our content and the methods through which we can share it, the more our collections stay open, accessible, and relevant.

The Licensing of Community Content

When The New York Public Library's (NYPL) Digital Gallery went live in early 2005, it allowed many remote library users access to collections previously available only through a trip to the library. A good portion of the collection online, especially the early material, is in the public domain. NYPL does, however, charge users of this public domain material "a usage fee to license an image for commercial use," claiming these fees allow the library to further its existing mission.

The Smithsonian Institution has a similar policy making public domain images in its collection available online. However, the images were difficult to obtain for personal use and expensive to license for other uses. In a calculated act of civil disobedience, the organization Public.Resource.Org retrieved all of the images available on the Smithsonian Images site and made them available on Flickr as well as downloadable via FTP. There have not been lawsuits.

The Smithsonian itself recently began sharing many of its images via Flickr through a program called The Commons, wherein cultural heritage institutions such as George Eastman House and the Library of Congress are making some of their digital images available via a newly created usage guideline that Flickr calls "no known copyright restrictions." This allows others to use the images for any purpose and also to annotate and comment on the photos themselves.

Reference via Distributed Workload and Collaborations

Figuring out whether a work is in the public domain is difficult. Books published between 1923 and 1963 are in the public domain IF their copyright has not been renewed. However, this is a large, important "if." Determining whether that renewal had taken place used to be very difficult, requiring a trip to the Copyright Office's website and a search through pre-1978 printed records and then combining the results of those searches to authoritatively determine that a work's copyright had not been renewed.

Since many people err on the side of caution when dealing with copyright, this meant that books that might be in the public domain but had not been proven to be in the public domain were not generally made available by content providers. Recently, however, a project bringing together Copyright Office records OCRed by Carnegie Mellon University, proofreading by Project Gutenberg and Distributed Proofreaders, and combining and parsing by Google, resulted in an XML file of all the U.S. copyright renewal records, available for download as a 56MB file, which is in the public domain. A similar data set is available for online searching at Stanford University.

Another project involving copyright and Google Books is the result of some work done at the University of Michigan. Its library is one of the collections being digitized in partnership with Google. It is digitizing all the books in its library. While books in the public domain are available online, books currently in copy- right are still scanned and indexed but not made available. However, University of Michigan students with visual disabil- ities can obtain a URL to any book digitized by Google simply by checking the actual book out of the library, a use explicitly allowed by copyright. The MBooks program has also been adding access keys and markup to its digitized content to make the digitized books more useful for people with screen readers. It is also "investigating the possibility of including students with learning disabilities," which would be a great step forward.

Who Owns the Content You Paid For?

Yahoo! recently decided to close its online music store, shifting to using Rhapsody as its music content provider. This is too bad for people who enjoyed the store but worse for people who owned music already purchased through the store. Why? Because in addition to closing the store, Yahoo! Music is also shutting down its DRM (digital rights management) servers, which means that people who have purchased music "will not be able to transfer songs to another computer or re-license these songs after changing operating systems."

The Yahoo! FAQ also says that "your purchased tracks will generally continue to play on your existing authorized computers unless there is a change to the computer's operating system." People who have already purchased music are encouraged to burn it to CD, which is a simple (though time-consuming) hack to circumvent DRM. This action also strips the metadata from the music, which makes it a nonstarter for librarians.

A closer-to-home example for libraries involves OverDrive, one of the most popular audiobook content providers. OverDrive's audiobooks are in WMA format and only play in Windows Media Player on Windows machines. Responding to pressure from libraries and others to offer versions of its titles that would play on the iPod, it responded with MP3 titles as of June 2008, but has not yet offered a "downloader" for the Mac operating system. MP3 titles must be purchased separately from, and in addition to, the current WMA titles a library may already own. While this is clearly a situation that is improving and not worsening, helping patrons make sense of DRM, platform restrictions, and confusing icons and compatibilities is definitely a step away from the traditional "Pick what you'd like off the shelf and we'll check it out for you" model, however much OverDrive may try to emulate it.

Moving Forward

Being in the content business in libraries in 2008 also means being conversant in licensing and copyright issues. Big players in the content industry, both libraries and nonlibraries, have used their knowledge of the law and the realities of content delivery to try to make inroads for better patron access and understanding. Even at the smaller scale, little decisions on the part of nonprofit institutions can influence larger corporations to make better decisions that benefit more people. Be thoughtful about your licensing choices and aware of your influence as your library makes its digital content purchasing decisions.


NYPL Digital Gallery

NYPL Digital Gallery FAQ

Peter Hirtle, "Archives or Assets?"

Public. Resource.Org's Letter to the Smithsonian 1 9.html

Smithsonian Images

Public. Resource. Org's Images on Flickr

Smithsonian's Images on Flickr

Library of Congress Flickr FAQ

Flickr Accounts FromTechSoup Stock

Cornell University's Copyright Term Chart

Library Digitization Projects and Copyright

Google Book Search Blog Post About Renewal -copyright-renewal- records-available.html

U.S. Copyright Office Records in XML Format -renewals-

Stanford University's Copyright Renewal Database

University of Michigan MBooks Project Page

University of Michigan MBooks Guide to Accessibility

Yahoo! Migration FAQ

Overdrive MP3 Titles

This entry in the Boston Public Library catalog shows that this MP3 audiobook won't play on a Mac

Jessamyn West is a community technology librarian in Orange County, Vt. She maintains the weblog, moderates, and speaks frequently on library technology topics in the U.S. and internationally. She communicates via

Rachel Singer Gordon alternates writing this department with Jessamyn West. Her email address is [email protected]

Copyright Information Today, Inc. Sep 2008

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