July 2012 Archives

Music, musicians, music fans, ownership, legitimacy...

(re-posted from previous links-roundup post)
There is so much to say about all this, but it's kind of all been said already. Here's a few of the things I've been reading in preparation for talking about it on MPR this morning. MPR's other station, The Current, has some good, concrete coverage of some of the latest flap with local musicians Jeremy Messersmith (who will also be on the show on July 9) and Christian Erickson

Suffice it to say, it all started with the NPR intern post by Emily White (except it didn't, this stuff has been debated for a lot longer than some folks seem to think), and David Lowery's condescending response. The Other Emily White, a music producer, wrote a great defense of Intern Emily White. Dave Allen, himself also a musician, fanned flames while also making some sharp points.

Since lots of the discussion has centered around who gets payment, and how, for music purchases, I was very interested to note the founding last week of Any and All Records, which promises to sign any artist who wants to be signed, and in return promises "to do nothing for you. That said, we also won't cost you anything, we won't take anything from you or own anything of yours either." They seem to have signed well over 200 artists already. As a point of comparison, I also found Steve Albini's early-90s discussion of the relationships between artists and traditional label structures pretty informative.

My reading list on this topic has grown exponentially - especially since some really sharp insights do surface in the general morass of comments on a lot of these posts.

Erin McKeown - http://theclatterofkeys.tumblr.com/post/25432949131/white-vs-lowery-or-i-dont-have-time-for-this

Justin Spohn - http://thisisviolence.net/post/26039099299/why-must-i-be-the-thief

Steve Albini - http://www.electricalaudio.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=59318&start=20#p1482891

Jeff Price from Tunecore - http://blog.tunecore.com/2012/06/the-intern-the-artist-the-internet.html

Jonathon Coulton - http://www.jonathancoulton.com/2012/06/20/emily-and-david/

Ethan Kaplan, LiveNation - http://www.blackrimglasses.com/2012/06/22/are-we-really-still-discussing-this-or-my-response-to-david-lowery/

Mike Masnick/Techdirt

Zac Shaw - http://www.mediapocalypse.com/in-defense-of-free-music-a-generational-ethical-high-road-over-the-industrys-corruption-and-exploitation/

NYTimes' Ben Sisario - http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/19/npr-intern-gets-an-earful-after-blogging-about-11000-songs-almost-none-paid-for/?smid=fb-share

Wesley Verhoeve - http://www.wesleyverhoeve.com/quixotism/
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raisedfist-fromOCA-coloredin.pngSince we're almost at the holiday that recognizes the U.S. Declaration of Independence, today seems an appropriate time to voice some rebellious thoughts.

I often spend time in talks and conversations trying to shift libraryfolk away from a compliance/risk-management mindset, and towards a risk-tolerant/risk-embracing mindset. For example, I often try to talk people into the idea that libraries should consider engaging in projects where there are legal arguments in our favor - even when some other folks might disagree about the legal arguments.

But really: talking people into considering engaging? The ALA Code of Ethics says that we "advocate balance between the interests of information users and rights holders" and that we "do not advance private interests at the expense of library users, colleagues, or our employing institutions". Avoiding all possibility of copyright risk in all decision-making is advancing private interests at the expense of library users.

So here's something you probably won't hear me saying a lot in large-group presentations (mostly because it would take too long to address related questions.) Rare books, films, videotapes, and audio recordings molder on our shelves as we debate how to apply unclear legal provisions: sometimes libraries should be putting our public interest goals (particularly preservation) ahead of legal considerations. Even if it means contravening the part of the ALA Code of Ethics that says we "respect intellectual property" (why is that in there, anyway?)

To be very explicit: sometimes libraries should be preserving things (or otherwise making copies to serve our patrons and the public) even when we know we have no explicit legal right to do so. Some of the most important things libraries have ever done have been in direct contradiction of laws, censorship, government, religion and other powerful forces. Why give copyright greater respect?

I know many colleagues will disagree with me. Others will want to know when I think those "sometimes" should be. Generally, I'm thinking about preservation of rare and/or rapidly decaying materials, providing access to users with disabilities, and serving the information needs of user populations who have particularly limited information access and/or who are particularly vulnerable in other ways. I don't have guidelines or best practices in mind - I'm not sure policies could really be written about this sort of thing (not least because just having a policy about this could expose an institution to legal risk). These are fundamental (and perhaps individual?) questions of conscience and professional ethics. Sometimes the most ethical course of action and the most legal one are not the same thing.

I do need and want to do a lot more thinking on this issue. I feel it particularly important to emphasize on this post that my opinions do not represent those of my employer, nor the practices of my place of employment.

ETA: I should note that 1) most library preservation copying is already explicitly legal (see sections b and c - the real challenge is making the preservation copies usable) and 2) a LOT of other library copying is probably fair use.
I should also note that while I think it is a bad idea for libraries to agree to contracts that prohibit the kinds of copying we might need to do for our patrons (whether copyright law explicitly permits that copying, or not), I also think that agreeing to such a contract with the intent of later violating it or "working around" it, is itself deeply unethical (and possibly illegal).
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I have thoughts...

...they just don't often end up here. I always want to write comprehensively - but many of the things I think about are way too big to write comprehensively about in a blog format. So, in hopes of more of my thoughts making it here, even in incomplete form, some annotated links.

Things That I Have Been Thinking About

  • Origami folding patterns
    Painter Sarah Morris has been making paintings based on the crease diagrams developed by origami artists, who have sued her for copyright infringement. The news stories about this case focus on whether the paintings are transformative, whether they are fair use, and issues of credit and attribution. But the first question that comes to my mind is, how would origami crease patterns be copyrightable in the first place?

    LangvMorrisfigure.jpgAs far as I understand it, crease patterns are algorithmically-generated instructions - incomplete ones, at that - for how to produce an origami figure. Instructions, recipes, diagrams that represent pure facts: not copyrightable. Certainly there's a lot of work involved in developing the crease patterns, but that's not copyrightable either. Origami figures, once folded by an artist, may well be copyrightable in themselves - they're certainly expressive and creative. Newly developed crease patterns may even be patentable! But I'm pretty sure Lang's understanding of origami copyright is incorrect.

  • Annoying permission requests
    A student in a class _about copyright_ requested permission to quote from our Copyright Information site in a class presentation. Our Creative-Commons-licensed site. In a class presentation. Either that student is not going to pass that class, or that instructor is really incompetent.
    Asking permission when fair use applies is a waste of your time and theirs, and shrinks fair use for all of us. Asking permission where Creative Commons licenses apply, or from someone who wants you to share their stuff is really quite disrespectful.

  • National blanket licensing
    Ariel Katz recently discussed the parallels between national blanket licensing and taxation without representation. Since there are frequently proposals to levy blanket fees on file storage media in the U.S., and blanket licenses are imposed on many venues here via extralegal (but close to unavoidable) means, I appreciated his insights on the fundamentally anti-democratic nature of the Canadian system. Choice quote:

    "Canada has established a "dancing tax", collected by, and for the benefit of, private entities, because they asked, nobody could afford to vigorously object, and the Board approved."

[Edited July 9 to move music stuff to new post.]

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from July 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

June 2012 is the previous archive.

August 2012 is the next archive.

I'm Nancy Sims, the Copyright Program Librarian at the University of Minnesota Libraries.

Though I am a lawyer as well as a librarian, no content on this blog constitutes legal advice; if you need direct advice on your legal rights or responsibilities, please consult your own attorney. This blog represents only my own opinions and not those of my employer.

I'm @CopyrightLibn on Twitter.

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