or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Copyright Warning Bookmark

   June 17th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Copying a DVDWe had sort of an odd situation in my library a little while ago - the story is a bit long, so please bear with me:

As circ staff were checking returned items back in, they found a DVD case with no disc in it (not unusual). They called and left a message for the patron to check their DVD player and please return the missing disc.

The patron called back after we were closed, left a message that she returned the wrong case, and asked we call her at work the next day.

What? Wrong case?

When our Head of Circulation called her the next day, the work number the patron gave was for a video reproduction company(!). When she finally spoke with the patron, the patron told her that she had the disc and the library's case, and the one she returned (accidentally) was a color photocopy she'd made of the DVD jacket (which it was, and confirmed in that the barcode and other stickers were no longer stickers).

This set off debate amongst the department heads in my library. It seems, clearly, that this patron worked at a video reproduction company that was checking out DVDs from the library and not just ripping the DVDs, but creating reproductions of the cases too - to who knows what end. Even if they're not mass reproducing them for sale, this activity is still illegal.

But, we have no actual proof of DVD copying, just speculation (maybe she just liked the DVD jacket?), and it'd be a major step to accuse a patron of this or to notify the police (or FBI?). So after some debate, we decided the library's role is to:

  • make information and materials available to the public, and
  • make the public aware of the copyright limitations of library materials

Our logic is that we can't police patrons and force them to follow intellectual property laws, but it is our responsibility to make sure they are informed of those laws.

To do that, we wanted to make a small handout or bookmark that informed patrons of copyright restrictions, but I wasn't sure exactly where to begin. I had bookmarked a Columbus Dispatch article entitled "Copying library CD? You just broke the law" awhile ago because of something I'd heard of going on at another library* and that article mentioned Carrie Russell, a copyright specialist for the American Library Association.

I found her ALA contact information, sent her an email explaining our situation and asking if she had concise wording we could use for a short copyright handout. Her response was hands-down the quickest (next day!) and most helpful reply I've ever gotten from someone at the ALA:


I usually suggest that the library suspend the patron's borrowing privileges when it is clear they are infringing.

You can use language from the CFR to craft a letter. This is the language that libraries should use when lending software, but you can use it for this situation too.

Notice: Warning of Copyright Restrictions The copyright law of the United States (title 17, United States Code) governs the reproduction, distribution, adaptation, public performance, and public display of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in law, nonprofit libraries are authorized to lend, lease, or rent copies of computer programs to patrons on a nonprofit basis and for nonprofit purposes. Any person who makes an unauthorized copy or adaptation of the computer program, or redistributes the loan copy, or publicly performs or displays the computer program, except as permitted by title 17 of the United States Code, may be liable for copyright infringement. This institution reserves the right to refuse to fulfill a loan request if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the request would lead to violation of the copyright law. (37 C.F.R. 201.24)

Hope this helps.

Some of us liked the idea of suspending the patron's borrowing privileges (at least temporarily), but we decided against that as a first step. From the wording Carrie sent, I created the following copyright notice brochure (changing references to "computer programs" to be inclusive of all library material). These bookmarks are kept at the Circ Desk and given to those patrons we suspect need the information most.

Feel free to edit and use this for your own library, and let me know if you can recommend any improvements. I was going for "fewer words = more likely to be read" but didn't quite get there.


*Another long story, for another time. In the meantime, here's a Video Pirates clip that's worth watching.

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AAA/Posit Science Donates Headaches to Libraries

   February 9th, 2010 Brian Herzog

car wreckIt's always sad when good intentions cause problems. This seems to be the case with a donation Massachusetts libraries are receiving from AAA Southern New England and Posit Science.

Massachusetts is considering requiring older drivers to get retested to keep their driver's license. To help prepare drivers for this possibility, and to help all drivers in general, AAA of Southern New England has partnered with Posit Science, a brain fitness software developer, to provide libraries in the state with $1 million worth of free copies of their DriveSharp software for our patrons to use (read press releases).

Considering the emails and other chatter I've seen on this program, here are some of the things that went wrong:

  • AAA seems to have announced this to its members before mentioning it to libraries, because many libraries are only finding out about this program when their patrons ask for it
  • Libraries are receiving two copies of the software on CD-ROM, and AAA/Posit Science is suggesting we install one on an in-library computer and let one circulate
    • CD is a horrible format for software - I will fight for my fax machine before I lift a finger to save the CD format
    • Most libraries use Deep Freeze or some other software that prevents any data being saved session-to-session; it appears this software is only useful to patrons if their progress is saved
    • Most libraries cannot dedicate one of their public workstations to this software - which is almost required, because if a library installs this on one of their internet workstations, you just know that any time someone comes in to use the software, someone will be on that computer checking their email or something
  • The software is limited by the number of licenses
    • Each library was sent 25 license codes, and the company recommends library staff include one code with the CD each time it gets checked out. There's even a place that says "Librarian: Put license code sticker here"
      • Except they didn't send the license codes printed on stickers - just a sheet of paper with 25 code numbers
      • This means library staff need to pay for the stickers and spend time typing them up
      • And the codes are something like P423ZY78Q which means there is plenty of room for transcription error
    • Putting a sticker on something might not sound like a lot of work, but it is prohibitively labor-intensive for most libraries, not to mention a new layer of complexity having to track this particular CD and apply the sticker every time it circulates
    • And after the 25 codes are used, the CDs become useless unless we contact them for more codes

A $1 million donation is great and incredibly generous - but I'm sure many libraries are just throwing these CDs away instead of deal with the hassle of offering them. I don't know if libraries were consulted beforehand or not, but I doubt it.

A much simpler execution would have been to make this software available online - no CDs to pay for or fuss with, less cost of mailing everything to libraries, and patrons could use it on any computer.

Besides: I know this is a useful free tool, and available to everyone. But, if a tax software company (or any company) sent us a free version of their software on CD and said, "hey, install this on your computers and lend it out to patrons," should we rush to do that?

I don't mean to whine about how complicated it is to be a librarian, but most people don't think about what it takes to offer a whole lot of stuff to a whole lot of people. User Experience needs to be evaluated at every step of the chain, not just the beginning and end. Maybe this was the easiest thing for the company to produce, and maybe it's the best software in the world. However, most end users will never see it, because the middle of the chain - the distribution points (libraries) - don't have the time, staff, expertise or inclination to deal with it.

Bad UX. Sadly, it sounds like much of that $1 million donation was completely wasted.

And of course, since AAA is telling their customers to get this CD at the library, we either deal with the headache of processing and offering it, or the headache of telling patrons we don't have it.

In my library, we decided to circulate one of them and keep the other in reserve in case the first disk is lost or damaged. We're also including the entire list of 25 codes, and asking the patron to cross off the numbers as they use them, instead of messing around with stickers.

UPDATE 2/11/10: I've spoken with both Steven Aldrich from Posit Science and Mary Maguire from AAA Southern New England, and they are both researching some of these issues on their end. Hopefully I'll soon be able to post more information on how the software works and a few circulation models some libraries have found successful.

UPDATE 2/22/10: Steven Aldrich pointed me to a presentation of some models libraries can use to offer this software, as well as how to make it work with programs like Deep Freeze. Very helpful - thank you Steven. Also, check out his blog post for more insight on this program.

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