Librarians and Integrity

I feel I must comment on the recent library blog topic regarding Netflix in libraries …., or, in my way of thinking, more broadly – librarian integrity. Meredith Farkas commented very perceptively on libraries using Netflix DVD commercial movies in their collection in the same manner as DVDs they have legitimately purchased. I wholeheartedly agree – It’s wrong!

I have a hard time believing that any qualified or experienced librarian would even consider such actions. Copyright law requires that “if the following circumstances exist, then you must obtain permission from the copyright holder to show the movie;

    *if the screening is open to the public,
    *if the screening is in a public space where access is not restricted,
    *if persons attending are outside the normal circle of family and acquaintances, such as showing a film to a club or organization

I think it’s safe to say that any “public” presentation of a commercial movie in the library to the general public would be prohibited without permission from the copyright holder.”
(Williams College Libraries has an excellent resource on the topic.)

And, it seems logical that any other viewing by the general public that is not allowed by “fair use” legal exemptions shouldn’t be permitted, let alone encouraged. This is almost common knowledge among our profession.

So, where is the integrity among individual librarians? As I commented to Meredith, “If there are no institutional accounts with Netflix, then some individual librarian is putting their neck and career in jeopardy, and inviting personal liability along with the library as defendants in a law suit.” Who would do such a thing?

Seriously, does any professional librarian really believe that Netflix is going to extend their blanket carte blanche permission to share rented movies to any library – therefore to EVERY LIBRARY? Netflix is a business! For libraries to steal business from anyone is unconscionable. Meredith’s analogy of a grad student checking out library materials and then re-loaning them for a profit is very apt. It’s just not right, and no library would sit still for such a practice by their customers. Why would Netflix?

If Pegasus Librarian (There are Terms of Service and Terms of Service, If You Know What I Mean) is an example of current professional librarian thinking, maybe we have more serious problems than trying to make 21st Century Library services relevant in our communities. Does anyone really believe discussions involving topics from “closed stacks to copyright to food in the library” are ALL topics open to local interpretation? Local policy and federal law are hardly in the same category of discussion, or have the same gravity of consequences.

I certainly hope and pray that this is not a shadow of what the 21st Century librarian is going to become.


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16 responses to “Librarians and Integrity

  1. Does anyone really believe discussions involving topics from “closed stacks to copyright to food in the library” are ALL topics open to local interpretation?

    Raises hand.

    Copyright is far from cut and dried. There are several important exceptions to copyright that apply in confusing and seemingly-contradictory ways. A library policy that simply says “follow the law” is as good as no policy at all.

    To say that you disagree with someone is perfectly understandable in such an environment. To act like the ethical path is clear and uncomplicated and that anyone who disagrees with you lacks “integrity” is foolish.

    • Thanks for pointing out that copyright is not a cut and dried issue, but actually the law is. The application of copyright parameters to any given situation is the tricky part, and that usually requires an attorney to sort out the legal issues.

      I admit that I didn’t state my objection well. I feel that lumping discussions about “closed stacks” and “food in the library” in with copyright is like lumping cancer and soccer in the same discussion. Not charging patrons for library services that are free by law is in the same category as applying copyright laws to library situations. The former involves local policy and what is best for the library, patrons, mission, etc. The latter involves application of the law, legal advice, precedence, etc., and there is no allowance for local policy or patrons’ opinions. The two topics are not in the same category of discussion.

      Librarians who think using DVD commercial movies that they rent from a provider, whether it’s Blockbuster or Hollywood Video or Netflix, to re-lend to patrons are not thinking straight. There’s no other way to state that. It’s wrong on so many levels as Meredith said, and librarians should set a better example than that, both in following the law and in honoring Terms of Service agreements.

      • bevedog

        You can keep saying that as much as you like, it doesn’t make it true.

        Try here:

        Specifically, “no license from the copyright holder is required when a teacher at a public school or non-profit educational institution uses a lawfully purchased or rented copy of a movie in classroom instruction. It doesn’t matter who purchased or rented the film, so long as it was legally obtained.”

        And if you are going to contact a lawyer for each somewhat difficult copyright situation you encounter…well, I hope you get a bulk discount.

        • The discussion was about librarians re-lending Netflix DVDs to patrons, teachers or whomever – “…libraries using Netflix DVD commercial movies in their collection in the same manner as DVDs they have legitimately purchased. … It’s wrong!” If for no other reason than the “personal” “individual” Terms of Service that the individual agreed to. I believe it is true and until some court rules that a library has the right to rent a DVD movie from Netflix and legally re-lend it to a patron, regardless of who that patron is, I will be the first to apologize. Until then – It’s wrong!

          Seriously, does anyone believe that Netflix is going to give EVERY LIBRARY license to re-lend their DVDs?

          And, I agree with GeekChic’s reply on Pegasus Librarian today, “My place of work has a very prosaic reason for obeying all licenses and terms of service agreements – it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars to become embroiled in a lawsuit … . I use common sense to abide by the law and remain on the “better safe than sorry” side, while setting an ethical example for my community.

  2. Hi Steve,

    I didn’t make the connection that I saw between licensing discussions and topics like food in the library very clear in my post, so let me clarify a bit here. I was suggesting that all of these topics center around respecting content. When people ban food or institute closed stacks, one of the big reasons is to protect the books from harm. I was suggesting that we have a long, long history of respecting content that (I think) we bring to bear on these newer discussions about licensed content. Protecting the content is so central to our profession that when people suggest anything that does not protect the content, there’s a lot of moral outrage against those people and accusations of being unprofessional.

    In contrast to this, I was suggesting that some of the other outrage I see (usually about license restrictions on tools rather than content) is primarily directed at the Mean Vendor rather than the Unprofessional Librarian. The target of the outrage is different in these other discussions.

    So you see, I wasn’t suggesting that everything is up to individual interpretation (though there is a lot of wiggle room in many aspects of copyright law, as Steve has pointed out). I was merely interested in the kinds and targets of emotions expressed in these discussions and how they differed from the kinds and targets of emotions I’ve seen expressed in other debates.

    (Also, just as a minor point of clarification, most of this issue has to do with contract law rather than copyright law, since licenses always trump copyright.)

    • Thanks for the clarification. I understand where you were coming from now. I can’t argue with your point that our steadfast protection of content sometimes blinds us to other issues relevant to our actions/policies. Not sure I can agree with copyright “lot of wiggle room”. But, I’ll also agree that this particular issue or re-lending rented DVD movies is more about licensing than copyright.

      • This is getting a little far afield from the main thrust of your post, but I wanted to explain a little bit about why Steve Lawson and I keep saying there’s wiggle room. We’re not saying anything goes. We’re saying that not everything is cut and dried. Copyright has so much wiggle room that they had to make the Classroom Guidelines just so people would have some idea of what might possibly be allowed, and even those state that they’re outlining the minimum possible allowance under section 107 — they’re not law, just guidelines helping to clarify the very vague law. This is also why people talk about the law being defined by the courts rather than the legislature, because the decisions on lawsuits are what have to guide us in absence of clarity in the law.

        (Also, as long as we’re talking copyright, professors are actually allowed to screen films without seeking permission according to section 110 of copyright law.)

      • One last thing. If people want to use copyright law as the primary argument against the Netflix thing, point them toward section 109. We’re allowed to lend out whatever we’ve legally obtained EXCEPT if we legally obtained it through rental, lease, or loan (see subsection d). This means that if there weren’t a license agreement in place, and if we were simply going according to Title 17, we couldn’t lend things that we’ve borrowed from Netflix or Blockbuster or our grandmothers.

        So yeah, not a great idea on any count, copyright or license, but I’m still more interested in the type and targets of the outrage than I am in the debate itself. 🙂

        • Thanks for the further clarification and the references. I guess we will have to agree to disagree regarding the meaning of “wiggle room”. Just because we lay-folks can’t understand the legal jargon of the Statute, therefore can’t figure out how to interpret or apply it, doesn’t mean there is “wiggle room” within the law. Wiggle room to me means there is enough unspecific language to not provide sufficient parameters to cover every reasonable situation.

          Section 109 “(d) The privileges prescribed by subsections (a) and (c) do not, unless authorized by the copyright owner, extend to any person who has acquired possession of the copy or phonorecord from the copyright owner, by rental, lease, loan, or otherwise, without acquiring ownership of it.” Seems pretty specific to me.

          The Guidelines to which you refer are the institution’s way of interpreting the law for its employees so that they can understand and apply it in specific situations. Another institution’s lawyer may interpret the Statute differently – say more loosely or more strictly – depending on their own understanding and interpretation of law.

          Thanks for the links to both Section 109 and Section 110, Exemptions. I think most librarians are familiar with “fair use” by educators, and I’m fairly familiar with Statutes in general, at least I can decipher most of them. Thanks for the exchange, both you and Steve.

          • As much as I appreciate everyone’s opinion on this debate over the legality of using Netflix as part of the library collection, no matter how strictly it is controlled, I agree with the Chronical of Higher Education article Academic Libraries Add Netflix Subscriptions. “Copyright lawyer and librarian Kevin Smith, a scholarly communications officer at Duke University, said academic libraries are taking a risk with these programs. Although copyright law allows faculty members to use the material in the classroom, he said, they may be opening themselves up to legal action from the company. My personal opinion is that the risk of a contract problem makes it not worthwhile for us to have a program to lend discs that we borrow from Netflix,” Mr. Smith said. “It’s not a copyright issue. It’s an issue of the contract between the user and Netflix.”

            I also agree with Meredith and others who recognize that just because Netflix has chosen not to pursue legal action against library subscribers who violate the Terms of Service to which they agreed, does not make it legal or right. As I first said, librarians should be better than this and set an example for their customers of integrity and respect, not show them how to “beat the system”. And I still hope and pray that this is NOT the 21st Century mindset that will lead the profession.

        • Sure, we can agree to disagree. I would point out that I’ve been a copyright consultant and also wrote the bulk of the copyright policy that governs my institution, and in these capacities have struggled quite a lot to navigate a prudent, thoughtful, and pragmatic course through the various sections of the law that are vague enough to need institutional level clarification. I’ve also worked with copyright lawyers on these projects.

          I am not always right about everything having to do with Title 17, not by a long shot, but I have years and years of experience dealing with it and use that experience to come to considered opinions.

          I hope and pray that 21st century librarians are savvy enough to acknowledge uncertainty where it exists and bring evidence to bear on their considered opinions about how to navigate that uncertainty. Maligning professional integrity should only be a last resort.

          • Based on your background, I agree that you are very knowledgeable and experienced in the subject and I appreciate your insight. And, I suspect you are experienced enough to also agree that professionals should act in a manner that doesn’t call their professionalism into question.

        • bevedog

          It’s not really “agreeing to disagree” when you are still questioning people’s integrity. But on that, I’ll agree to stop commenting.

        • Wait. Are you calling my professionalism into question? Seriously?

          As I explained up-thread, my original blog post was never an endorsement of breaking the law, contract law or copyright law. It was never even about “wiggle room.” If you think it was, you are mistaken.

          And with that, I’m done here. I don’t need someone who can’t even read carefully enough to understand my original post questioning my professional integrity.

          • Absolutely not! I apologize for whatever I might have written to make you think that.
            I am referring to the librarians who use Netflix to expand their collection, and justify doing so by arguing that “Netflix didn’t say we couldn’t”. I thought I wrote that in a previous Comment on this thread. Their professionalism may be open to question. Your comments have left no doubt regarding yours.

  3. Ok. Thank you for the clarification. When you circled back to the phrases you’d used in your post to describe me it sounded like we were right back where we started.

    Personally, I’d prefer to leave accusations of lack of integrity out of this entirely since several librarian have, in fact, talked to Netflix before rolling out this plan.

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