We All Live Downstream

I was telling another one of my correspondents yesterday that I really need to stop poking my face into the Harper Collins boycott debates because, as an academic law librarian,  it’s not my fight.  But that’s not really true.  I’m a librarian. I’m a public library patron.   I’m a taxpayer.  I have a vested interest in making sure that this current issue is discussed and approached in a thoughtful and hopefully successful manner.

But really, this isn’t just a public library issue. This isn’t just an eBook licensing issue.  This is just a symptom of a larger problem facing all libraries everywhere.  And how it’s approached will inform librarian/vendor relations – all libraries, all vendors – in the future.

Earlier this week, a group of law librarians, legal information vendors and other stakeholders met at the AALL Vendor Colloquium to begin the long process of trying to figure out some solutions.  While I have had my issues with the transparency and openness of the event, I’ve always maintained that it was a good idea to get  a bunch of people in a room together to see what shakes out.   It speaks to a willingness to work together, which is what all members of the information ecosystem need to do if we’re all going to survive.

That’s one of the reasons why I was not too keen on the eBook User Bill of Rights.  It seem too confrontational and yet didn’t go far enough.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I think we need to include the rights and responsibilities of all involved.  What follows is a reaction the #hcod/eBook User Bill of Rights thoughts I’ve seen as well as some ideas that I’ve been generating as a result of reading the AALL Vendor Colloquium public notes.   It’s still definitely in the rough, first draft stages.  Feel free to add or subtract from it or otherwise tell me I’m full of it.

Statement of Rights and Responsibilities for the Information Age

Content Distributors (aka Vendors, Publishers)

* are not the enemy.
* have the right to be a profitable business. However, they should have accurate business models and not make pricing plans based on guesstimates or short term goals.
* should communicate openly, honestly and often with customers
* should have competitors. A choice between a terrible product and a REALLY terrible product is not a choice at all.
* should provide quality products. Walled garden ebook devices, clunky software, etc are not acceptable. (And on a lighter note, can someone PLEASE invent a stapler that can last through a finals week at an academic library?)
* should engage in fair business practices. Incorrect invoices, barely changed “new editions” are not fair to libraries.
* should respect the role of Content Guardians as preservers of cultural artifacts. Libraries need to purchase ownership rights, not temporary licenses.
* should understand that much intellectual property piracy is a result of laziness on the part of the Content Consumer. Make products that are easy to acquire and use and you will make money. Then you can stop punishing Content Creators and Content Guardians with complicated publishing and licensing agreements.

Content Creators (aka Authors)

* should be able to make a profit from their works. Their intellectual property rights should be protected and enforced.
* should take into consideration those downstream when negotiating publishing deals – e.g. academics should consider OA publishing options, other creators request that their materials are made as technologically open as possible – print, open electronic formats, etc.

Content Consumers (patrons/the general public)

* should respect the intellectual property of Content Creators and Content Distributors. (Piracy is bad, mmmkay?)
* should – via their representative government – sort out the current mess that is intellectual property law in the united states.
* need to decide if having an institution that acts to serve, protect and defend content for the current population and generations to come is important and if so, fund libraries adequately.

Content Guardians (aka librarians)

* should not consider Content Distributors the enemy. Any business negotiations conducted with them should occur in a non-emotional, professional manner.
* have the right to collect and circulate content regardless of the form it takes – DVDs, eBooks, print materials, etc.
* have a duty to preserve cultural artifacts and thus should work to own materials, not just lease or rent them. To do otherwise is poor stewardship of the Content Consumers’ monies.
* act as guides to Content Consumers in the information age – should educate about DRM, for example, and should continually educate themselves so that they can make adequate decisions.
* need to explore alternate business models – purchasing consortiums, shared collections, etc.
* should not rely upon professional organizations to lead the way – they have their uses, but at the end of the day they are also large corporations with business interests to protect and will be conservative in their actions as a result. Much of the change that needs to happen will occur on the grassroots level, individual purchasing decision by individual decision.


Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/f-r-a-n-k/


  3 comments for “We All Live Downstream

  1. March 4, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    You’re on the right track.

  2. suzi w.
    March 4, 2011 at 5:18 pm


  3. Michael Ginsborg
    March 4, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    You make a valuable and insightful recommendation. The content guardians and consumers need to better understand the nature and extent of unfair, and anti-competitive, practices by content distributors, and to do more to leverage the law for remedies if voluntary guidelines do not suffice. I also favor a broader concept of grassroots engagement, to embrace collective action consistent with the full weight of the law.

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