I noticed when I went to one of the libraries I work with that they had received their public performance rights to show movies at the library, apparently as some blanket deal from the Department of Libraries. I read the documentation that came from Movie Licensing USA, an outfit that provides public performance licensing to schools and libraries. With a cost that they never state but call “reasonable” this group will give you a piece of paper that seems to say that the MPAA will stay off your back if you want to show movies @ your library. Well, not all movies, just ones by the major studios that they represent. You also can’t advertise the showing of your movie to the general public. If you want to put a listing in the newspaper you can only do so in the vaguest of terms — without actually using the name of the movie you are showing. They suggest ideas like “The library will be showing a tale of wizardry by the author JK Rowling.”
While the company won’t give you information about copyright law in general — ALA has this page for the curious — they seem more than happy to tell you what you are NOT allowed to do under copyright law. The printed materials that come with the license are even more bizarre and talk about “avoiding the embarassment of a lawsuit” as one reason a library might want to obtain public performance rights.
If your library is looking into obtaining public performance rights, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has a good list of questions to ask a licensing service.
Can you tell that I just added Freedom to Tinker back into my RSS reader? This post about how quickly digital copies of the newest Harry Potter book made it on to the Internet in text and audio — despite or possibly because of J.K. Rowling’s decision not to release the book in ebook format — says some important things about the relationship between distributing information digitally and copyright infringement. Different types of people can think the phrase “downloading music” means buying it, illegally sharing it, exercising your fair use rights, or possibly even making use of the lovely public domain.
Since there have been copying technologies, people have been making copies and sharing information. I’m not saying that this makes any and all sorts of information reproduction right as rain, but it does help to keep a cool head about these issues and remember that the Internet didn’t create copyright infringment, it only made it simpler. The simplification of copyright infringment through information reproduction has made the media campaign to dissuade people from even trying that much more aggressive, and made the lobbyists try that much harder to make even tighter legislation to outlaw it. And, as librarians who like to share as much as we’re legally able, this is a pickle indeed.
JD Lasica’s list of Top 10 assaults on digital liberties could just as easily be titled “Top 10 assaults on digital libraries” as diglet rightly points out. Of particular note to libraries is #10. I’ve been hearing more and more about libraries being strongarmed into consortia that requires them to forego IT and filtering decisionmaking, independent collection development and in some cases even in-house cataloging staff. Keep your eyes open to changed in your digital information environment, and the legislation that constantly surrounds it, so that you can be an advocate for access by your patrons.