As the Big Deal begins to recede into the rearview mirror (somewhat, kinda, but watch this space…), I’m going to re-brand this Friday post as just a Friday ___ Read. Often it will be a longread, with the idea being that you could bookmark it for perusing during some lazy hour or two over the weekend. This week it’s a pretty short read - a Twitter thread, in fact, and not even a very long one. But I think it’s worth sharing (and archiving here in un-threaded format), because it reflects a synthesis I tried to accomplish of lots of threads that were raised in a conversation among library and public information policy advocates yesterday in DC. The informal group was convened by the Internet Archive, and we discussed a wide range of issues facing libraries in the digital/Internet era. Anyway, the thread that starts with this tweet is my attempt to sum up the situation as I see it. And here is the thread laid out in prose form (takes barely a couple of minutes to read):
Copies and Rights
A library’s core job is to ensure broad, equitable access to culture and information. Libraries need two things to do their jobs: copies and rights. We can generally get those things in two ways: from the market and from the law. In the analog era, we could get copies on the open market with limited opportunity for discrimination by rightsholders, and we got the rights we needed (to lend, preserve, etc.) from the law. Those two things let us build collections that ensured equitable, long-term access to information without undue interference by rightsholders.
In an owned-copy world, if works go out of print, or are reissued in censored versions, or are priced too high, or whatever, that’s OK; libraries have our own copies, and the rights to preserve and share them. The copyright bargain assumes that at the end of copyright’s term, the public will be free to access and use cultural works. That bargain is a dead letter if no one but the rightsholder has any copies available to share when the term runs out. No libraries, no public domain.
In the licensed digital era, we depend entirely on the rightsholders for both copies and rights, which means libraries can no longer do our job of acting as a check on rightsholder monopolies and a guarantee of copyright’s long term goals. Instead, rightsholders can refuse to sell to libraries, or engage in perfect market discrimination, offering libraries limited rights at exorbitant prices, and there’s nothing we can do about it. The public is losing its half of the copyright bargain.
There are a dozen ways to undo this situation - busting up over-consolidated industries, preempting bad contracts, expanding the right to demand copies, flexing rights to digitize collections, and more. But it all comes back to empowering libraries to continue to get these two things on reasonable terms, regardless of rightsholder market power: copies and rights. Anyway, that’s my big picture after a lovely afternoon of talking to friends in the library and public interest world here in DC, thanks to @lilabailey and @internetarchive.