Sep 27, 2011

Libraries vs authors - not again

This article "Authors Take Libraries to Court in Face Off on Copyright Issues" came up in my news feed today. The Authors Guild, some other organizations and 8 authors filed a suit against HathiTrust and several universities (including my own Indiana University and its libraries), blaming them for the "systematic, concerted, widespread and unauthorized reproduction and distribution of millions of copyrighted books and other works." (text of their complaint).

Really? Do these organizations and individuals have legitimate concerns regarding the dissemination of their work or are they there for publicity and settlement money? It seems that if they had legitimate concerns, they would've done it differently. Why attack libraries, which don't really profit from all their work but rather try to provide better and more adequate services to their populations? Isn't it an attempt to go for smaller fish in order to get bigger fish? Libraries have an agreement with google, so this suit looks more like a move against google. If Google steps in, it can settle a better deal for everybody.

Getting one's name out isn't a bad idea either. For example, the article about the suit mentions Frances Grimble, who quoted as saying "It is time for libraries to go. Clearly, their only goal these days is to maintain their existence—with the aid of public funding, which most writers and publishers do not get—in a world where libraries have become obsolete." Hm... The argument doesn't seem to have much evidence to support itself. I talk about library obsolescence with my students all the time and we always come back to "but what do you mean by 'library'?".

It seems that Ms. Grimble's understanding of libraries needs to be updated. Libraries provide access to the internet, databases, digital books, ipods, ipads, e-textbooks, etc., etc. And they rely on public funding, because their goals are not to earn money (which is the goal of authors and publishers), but to preserve knowledge and disseminate it among those who can't afford to pay $35 for a book (the average price of most Ms. Grimble's books on amazon). Public funding allows citizens to combine financial resources (through taxation, etc.) and create a pool of shared resources so that the larger group can benefit from it. Modern resources are digital resources. It's obvious that libraries should provide access to digital resources. Why anybody would want to fight it unless they have an ulterior motive? I certainly wouldn't want to buy every book or DVD I use. I don't have that much money and honestly, most of it is not even worth it.

HathiTrust Statement on Authors Guild, Inc. et al. v. HathiTrust et al.