Setting a questionable example

A fair amount of my time spent at work involves informing faculty and other staff about copyright issues and trying to ensure that the employees of the school avoid egregious violations of copyright.

A cloudy issue that often comes up is the in-class viewing and linking-to videos on YouTube. As we all know there is a vast amount of content that has been up-loaded there without the permission of the actual copyright holder (and YouTube’s owner is dealing with a major lawsuit due to this reality).

When faculty ask about linking to this content we advise them against it. Obviously there’s about a .0001% chance of the school getting in to any legal trouble by giving teachers cart blanche to link to whatever content they can find on the Internet. However, that isn’t really the point.

If pushed for a justification for our policies I would say, “how would you feel if some guy in his basement scanned a bunch of pages from a book you wrote and put it up on some site where anyone could view it, copy it, print it, etc.?” (this is obviously happening more and more).

In my mind that type of copying and distribution of someone else’s work is equivalent to someone taking a substantial portion of a TV show, movie, etc. and just uploading it to a service like YouTube.

Schools also spend a lot of time and effort creating policies for students to properly cite their sources, avoid plagiarism etc.

In my mind this message becomes muddled when I see examples like this from the North Metro Technical College library’s blog:

violating copyright

The blog entry embeds a YouTube video of the classic School House Rock video about the U.S. constitution. When you click on the link you see that it was uploaded by the immortal Dogboy2709. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying that he is not the legitimate copyright holder of the video.

Of course you could argue that the writer of the entry thought the video would be educational/enjoyable for their audience and didn’t know it was uploaded without the proper permission. However, the authour admits:

“Someone has uploaded the School House Rocks version- which is very clever, easy to sing and probably violates copyright…”

So you admit it is likely a copyright violation for this video to be on YouTube. But you not only link to it, you embed it?

I know America has the DMCA which provides video sites like YouTube a lot of legal protection as long as they remove a video after they are alerted that it is an infringing copy. Even with the lack of any legal jeopardy, I don’t think this blog entry sets a particularly good example when it comes to respecting people’s intellectual property.

Bang for your buck

There is an interesting In Press article from the Journal of Academic Librarianship:

Reference Transactions Analysis: The Cost-Effectiveness of Staffing a Traditional Academic Reference Desk

From the abstract:
“This study categorizes 6959 reference desk transactions to determine how many of the queries require the attention of a librarian. Results indicate that 89% could likely be answered by non-librarians. From the results of this and other studies, the author explores the cost-effectiveness of staffing a traditional reference desk with librarians.”

The article presents a study and discusses previous research which details how search and information discovery technology has radically changed the traditional role of the reference librarian. The authours then provide data which call into question the cost-effectiveness of staffing academic reference desks with librarians given the types of questions that now predominate:

“Results of the current question analysis study also confirm that many questions can be considered simple directional or machine-related. As seen in Table 3, the 2528 non-informational direction and machine transactions accounted for 36.3% of all of the transactions during the eight-month study period. Few would argue that these “restroom” and “paper jam” transactions require the attention of a librarian.”

One of the highlights of the research presented:

“Dividing the amount by the 6959 transactions shows that the library spent an average of $7.09 per transaction. While that does not seem particularly expensive to answer the 784 “research” questions ($5559), consider that during the same time frame the library spent $7.09 on each of the 2528 times that a printer cartridge was changed, or a paper jam fixed, or directions were given to a building across campus.”

These cost estimates are below what they would likely be in a Canadian academic library. This study used an average librarian salary of $23.77, which is quite a bit lower than the librarians where I work (heck, even I make more than that).

The financial difficulties spiraling through the US economy are expected to hit Canada hard fairly soon. When increased pressure on library budgets start to set in,  I think it is inevitable that the trend of library technicians working extended shifts at the public reference desk will become more and more common.

While groups like this one, express concern over the de-professionalization of library work, the authours of the article don’t dwell on what some may see as the negative aspects of the changing trends at the reference desk, they point out where the role of the librarian should be moving:

“This may bolster the argument that librarians can leave answering most questions to others and can now concentrate on working on tasks that better utilize their training and experience, as well as learning new skills that benefit the library, the users, and the institution.”

Uhhhh….isn’t this like illegal?

I came across the site Mygazines a few days ago.

From my experience working on copyright issues I can’t understand how it has not been flooded with takedown notices.

The site appears to consist of hundreds of popular magazines, scanned from cover-to-cover. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that this is being done without the permission of the actual publishers of the magazines.

Looking at the Contact Us section I see no information about an actual address, phone number, etc. I’m guessing the site’s servers may be located in some Baltic republic or other former Soviet satellite state which tend to take a “relaxed” standard to copyright law.

If no one tries to take the site down, libraries may be able to save a lot of money on periodical subscriptions. At least on the popular magazines, I haven’t been able to locate any of the dry, peer-reviewed journals we academic libraries are known for.

I must admit that the temptation to read the latest issue of Mojo (without paying for it) is hard to resist but the existence of sites like this make it harder for us copyright cops to tell faculty they need permission to upload a scan of a Ziggy cartoon to their Blackboard page.

One thing you’ll probably never see in a Canadian library

Users in my library could use a machine like this.

But the copyright police would probably have machines like this destroyed at the border.

Thanks Jim Prentice!

Images In Vogue

One of my main duties at work is helping ensure that faculty and staff are following proper procedures when it comes to the use of copyrighted materials.

Given the ease with which people are sharing/re-mixing/stealing all manner of content these days, I believe faculty and staff are surprised when we tell them that some of the activities they are taking part in are in violation of the school’s copyright policy.

One of the most common sources of surprise involves the Google Image Search. Faculty are constantly looking for the quickest source of images for PowerPoint, to upload to Blackboard, etc. Needless to say they are often able to find the perfect image through a service that indexes over a billion web pages.

If a teacher was looking for crayfish images they tend to turn to Google and I’m sure the majority simply use the images they find in a number of ways. But for those poor souls who ask for our guidance we have to tell them that all those images are in no way owned by Google. They are simply providing thumbnail size versions of images that they scrape from all the sites they index. Without trying to explain them to them the intricacies of Perfect 10 vs. Google we tell them they need to go to the actual site the image comes from and check their Terms of Use document to see if they can use it for educational purposes.

As an aside, I’m aware I might be sounding hypocritical given that I’ve just uploaded this screen shot of a Google page (with a number of copyrighted images within it, yikes!) without any formal permission but my work duties mean I have to help ensure that the college is never accused of copyright infringement (sorry Georgia State). As an individual I am more than happy to push back against restrictive interpretations of copyright law.

We are doing are best to instruct college employees about the wealth of material that can be found with Creative Commons licenses. Pushing them in this direction helps ensure respect for copyright and saves me time from having to send out a bunch of permission requests.


While I find the flickr search tool adequate most of the time, I think the less tech savvy find it lacking (few results per page, interpreting the various licenses, etc.)

ReadWriteWeb mentioned a new flickr search tool called compfight that I’m very impressed with. The most obvious feature is the large number of image previews it brings up when you do a search.

There are number of other features that make it so useful. By clicking the text with blue font on the main screen you can:

  • Choose to search for pictures with Creative Commons licenses and for ones with specific types of licenses (commercial use, etc.)
  • By clicking the black button by the search box you can search the text supplied alongside the image or just search the specific tags applied to it.

Of course searches on a user-generated site has its limitations. If a teacher is looking for an image that shows the nervous system of a crayfish (do they even have one?) chances are it won’t be found in flickr. But many times they want fairly generic images and the more tools like compfight make searching for copyright flexible material the easier it will be to get school employees to buy-in when it comes to respect for copyright.

And I can have more time to read my RSS feeds.

Stop Snitchin’

I came across an interesting article from the September 7th issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The article, The First Close Look at Colleges’ Digital Pirates, (complete article behind paywall) details a joint venture of Illinois State University and the “entertainment industry” to:

give both the university and the entertainment industry a detailed snapshot of music and movie piracy on a typical college campus.”

This venture is called the Digital Citizen Project, and the main feature of the project was that:

the university opened up its campus network, collecting never-before-seen data on what files students were swapping and how they share them“.

My initial reaction when scanning the article was that Illinois State had abandoned its traditional role as an educational institution and it had decided to capitulate and surrender to the rapacious need of the RIAAs and MPAAs of the world to hunt down and sue college students.

Recently more voices have been calling on schools to resist what they see as unreasonable intrusions by the likes of the RIAA. See, Universities to RIAA: Take a Hike from the Berkman Center and this op-ed from the Harvard Crimson.

And most shocking of all was the fact that I read that a Cheryl A. Elzy, Dean of Libraries was helping to lead this effort. A librarian! I can imagine librarian groups like Library Juice would find it abhorrent that a librarian would become a tool of the corporate elites.

I also questioned why a librarian would be given such a key role in what I consider more of an IT issue. If students are using school property (computers, bandwith etc.) to trade pirated copies of movies and music then I would assume IT would be the ones to track it, curtail it etc.

And as the Chronicle article states, this project:

“did not sit well with some of Illinois State’s technology officers. Some IT-staff members worried that the industry group would start trying to tinker with the campus network. Others were just reluctant to turn their network into a testing ground.”

Answers to some of my questions came after I did a little more digging. In government Subcommittees and Committee hearings, Ms. Elzy does a rather eloquent job of providing the reasons the university and she herself became involved in the Digital Citizen Project. In regards to how her role as a librarian makes her the right person to be involved in this project she stated:

But why a librarian? Why not a Chief Information Officer or some other technology expert? Why is a librarian the campus DMCA agent? To us at Illinois State University the answers to all those questions make perfect sense. The four project leaders for Illinois State’s Digital Citizen Project represent diverse perspectives. We have an academic CIO, a student technology director, a library dean, and a nationally known technology consultant. My operation interprets literally dozens of copyright questions almost daily. Copyright expertise on my campus, and on a lot of campuses across the country, is most intensively developed in the library. While copyright protects intellectual property, it is my library’s job to put that property, that information, into the hands of the students, teachers, researchers, and casual readers who need it. Technology is only a means to an end in a whole lot of ways. Illegal peer-to-peer downloading is NOT a technology problem. It doesn’t have a “technology” solution. It is about legal access to materials or information resources. It is connecting users with the right tools. It is education and changing behaviors. How we do that is what we have been exploring for the past eighteen months and will describe for you today.

I like that she clearly stated to the elected officials that the issue of illegal downloading does not have a perfect technology-based solution and that if groups like the RIAA want today’s generation of students to show greater respect for copyright then they have to ensure their member groups make their music, movies, etc. more readily available when and where people want to use them.

One issue I have with this Digital Citizen Project is that while the Chronicle article clearly details how much of the funding comes from the entertainment industry, I can’t seem to find any details of this on the DCP web site itself. (I may just not be clicking on the right page however). By not making this details very clear on the web site they may give the impression that they are trying to hide the extent to which the entertainment industry is involved in such a seemingly invasive peek into the inner workings of a university’s communication infrastructure.

And finally, I’m feeling pretty unhip that I think I’ve only heard about 2 of the songs from the 50 Most Popular Downloaded Songs at Illinois State.

Haworth swallowed up

When I entered the world of library work a couple of years ago I set out to become acquainted with the journals and magazines relevant to the profession. I thought I’d end up bookmarking the major ones, occasionally check for the new issues in our databases, etc. As I quickly learned, there are a lot more journals dedicated to the world of libraries than I could have imagined and checking when a new issue was available became too laborious and an inefficient use of time.

Most of the time I’d be alerted to interesting new articles by one of the blogs I subscribed to. Over the last couple of years, however, more and more databases/publishers (as noted recently by the The Distant Librarian) are offering RSS feeds for journal updates and specific searches.

I find this approach a lot more elegant than what I was doing about a year ago, going to each individual publishers web site, creating a login name and password, and signing up for email alerts. I can also share/save these feed results in my Google Reader Shared Items feed.

One of the publishers I came across through alerts and searches on topics of interest to me was Haworth Press. What amazed me was just how many library-related journals they published (I would say that having a title like “Slavic & East European Information Resources” qualifies you as a niche publisher). Out of curiosity I set out to read some of the articles from a number of the titles but it turned out that very few of their journals were accessible through the college and university databases I have access to.

It has now been announced that Haworth will be acquired by Taylor & Francis. The most interesting part of the press release for me (besides the fact that it actually includes the phrase “resplendent hosting service”):

“For Haworth Press authors and journal editors, the opportunities for increased access to libraries through consortia deals and stronger journal packages foreshadow increased impact, usage, and both subscription and intellectual growth.

I hope more Haworth titles show up in the databases I do have access to, however Taylor & Francis does not appear to be on the list of publishers Scholars Portal has agreements with.

This blog post by T. Scott highlights some of the deficiencies he has seen with Haworth.

An article I want to read from Haworth’s Journal of Interlibrary Loan, Document Delivery & Electronic Reserve is “Electronic Reserves and the Copyright Challenge in Canada“. With more and more course developers/teachers wanting to embed content in course management systems and school intranets, finding approaches to this legal minefield is a pressing concern.

I see that only a few area schools provide electronic access to this journal (another reason to be jealous of the cool people at McMaster).

The authour Joan Dalton did do a presentation at the 2005 Superconference with the same name as the article so at least I have a general idea of her thoughts on the topic, but a lot has happend in the past two years that I want to hear the latest views.

Two other articles about the merger: