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

Author John Green, Copyright Violator

   February 25th, 2015 Brian Herzog

I meant to post this last week, but hopefully it's still new to some people - it's definitely still interesting to me.

The Copyfight blog highlighted a story on how author John Green came to the realization that a quote that had been widely attributed to him - which he didn't remember writing but accepted because the entire internet said it was his - wasn't actually his. He explains:

My takeaways from this are:

  • Not fact-checking is one thing. But even if you did fact-check and find every source available attributes something to the same source, you can still be wrong. The internet certainly allows for the wild propagation of sources, but it's nice to know that there still is an objective truth that lies beyond the internet zeitgeist.
  • Fact-checking has become exceeding difficult when the author of a novel has to illegally download a copy of his own book to search it. Maybe this is an indication that there is a problem with our copyright system.
  • John Green is a really nice guy.

Also, if you don't follow the CrashCourse YouTube channel, keep an eye out for their upcoming Intellectual Property episode (here's the preview):

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Copyright Good News

   March 21st, 2013 Brian Herzog

Right-on signIn case you haven't heard, the Supreme Court issued their decision in Kirtsaeng v Wiley, and common sense has carried the day. Publisher's Weekly has a good write-up, and so does SCOTUSblog.

This of course doesn't mean libraries will never face another copyright-related threat, but it does prevent things from getting ludicriously horrible right now. If you're interested in following copyright and intellectual property news, I highly recommend the Copyfight blog, written by Alan Wexelblat.

And speaking of copyright, this decision also reminded me that I never posted a link to this great Copyright Guide from Cornell. It's a handy little quick-reference to figure out if something is or is not covered by copyright. Thanks Jason, and I'm sorry for taking so long to post it.

And finally, one of my pet-peeves: remember world, the past-tense of copyright is "copyrighted," not "copywritten."

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Book-Related WPA Posters

   January 9th, 2013 Brian Herzog

This might not be new to anyone, but one of my Christmas gifts this year was a neat reproduction of a WPA poster:

Thanks Tom & Julie

I didn't know these posters were available, but apparently, since they are public domain, they are all over the place. The Library of Congress has the main archive (these are fun), and many people reuse the artwork to sell posters, bags, and just about anything else.

So, I get a fun poster out of the deal, but the real message is this: putting things into the public domain does not stifle commerce; absurdly-restrictive copyright does.

Oh yeah, I forgot to include this link: Vintage Ads for Libraries and Reading - more good stuff. Thanks again, Tommy.

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Update on Kirtsaeng v. Wiley

   November 7th, 2012 Brian Herzog

You've Been Owned: Stand Up For Digital First SaleEven though the election is over*, I wanted to keep things within the world of Government by providing an update on the Kirtsaeng v. Wiley Supreme Court case.

Oral arguments were heard last week, and things actually sound promising based on SCOTUSblog's recap of the arguments. Justice Breyer focused on the "parade of horribles" that could be the unintended consequences of Wiley's position - which Wiley's lawyer attempted to dismiss as not part of this case - to which Justice Kennedy responded

You’re aware of the fact that if we write an opinion with the . . . rule that you propose, that we should, as a matter of common sense, ask about the consequences of that rule.

And this is the entire issue for me - the state of the first sale doctrine after this decision. LISNews had a good, but frightening, characterization:

Notably, [Wiley's lawyer] didn't back away from the more extreme consequences of his client's win at the 2nd Circuit. If Wiley wins, he said, institutions like museums and libraries might need to get licenses from copyright owners for their activities.

More reading on this:

A ruling on the case is expected by June.

And a slight tangent: while I was looking for information on this case online, I came across Citizens for Ownership Rights - interesting.


*The 2016 campaign season starts today!

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Important Supreme Court Case: Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons

   October 10th, 2012 Brian Herzog

I like it when issues are so relevant to me that I couldn't miss them if I tried.

Early last week, I was coordinating with a speaker for the upcoming NELA conference, when he mentioned the Supreme Court Case of Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. It sounded vaguely familiar, but since I knew I could hear him talk about it next week, I didn't really pursue it.

A few days later, the same case showed up on BoingBoing, , nicely summarized:

Writing in MarketWatch, Jennifer Waters explains the implications of a Supreme Court case, Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, which turns on the question of whether you have the right to re-sell things you buy out of the country, or whether the copyrights embodied by your phones, clothes, gadgets, books, music, DVDs, and other possessions mean that you can't sell your stuff without permission from the original manufacturer.

Following Wiley's theory, you don't really own most of your possessions. You share ownership in your goods with the companies that made the goods you "bought" from them, and they get a veto over your disposal of them, and can also demand a cut of the proceeds.

It seems like something this ridiculous-sounding couldn't possibly come to pass, but remember this is also the Court that said corporations are people, sometimes.

And more significantly, a major publisher is involved. Here's where things started:

Wiley & Sons, a U.S. based textbook publisher with foreign affiliates, originally filed suit in the Southern District Court of New York against a Thai individual studying in the United States who obtained cheaper foreign-made editions of Wiley textbooks, printed by Wiley Asia, that he then resold on eBay in the U.S. for a profit. The District Court held that the first sale doctrine applies only to works manufactured in the United States.

We've already kissed the First Sale Doctrine goodbye with ebooks, and now it looks like applying it to physical items is threatened too. It seems like this would mean, at the very least, libraries would need to check all our books for "Printed in the USA" before we could resell them at a booksale, or else we risk breaking the law. But taken to the ridiculous extreme, it also sounds like individuals would have difficulty reselling almost anything made overseas - cell phones, cars, clothes, DVDs, etc.

The FBI will have to create a new task force, which could be dubbed "The Garage Sale Police," to enforce this if it becomes new copyright law. And in my opinion, anything that sounds like a reality show has got to be a bad idea.

But seriously, this is definitely something to pay attention to. Read more on MarketWatch and the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology Digest.

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Reference Question of the Week – 9/16/12

   September 22nd, 2012 Brian Herzog

All Is Vanity, by C. Allan GilbertThis question... well, this question is one of those that I dread. All too easy to answer, but the easy answer comes with a moral dilemma for librarians.

One afternoon my director came out to the Reference Desk to talk to me about something. While she was out there, a patron walked up and with this question:

Patron: There's a famous painting by an artist named C. A. Gilbert - it's of a women looking in a mirror, but it's an optical illusion that looks like a skull. Do you have a book with it in it?
Me: I don't know, but let's check.
Patron: It's a great painting - I want to photocopy it so I can put it on a t-shirt.

Okay, that last comment is what caused the warning bells to go off. I don't like giving patrons the "COPYRIGHT! DON'T STEAL!" talk, but I respect intellectual property enough to always work it in somehow. Each patron, and each potential copyright violation, is different, so I usual wait and try to either casually mention it in the course of the search, or make a very blatant parting statement after we find whatever we're looking for. But it's something no one ever wants to hear, most people don't care about, and makes me feel like a dork and a prude for pointing out. But I am a librarian, and I wear my dorkishness and prudishness on my sleeve.

My director, for her part, knew exactly what I was thinking (and dreading) copyright-wise, so she just kind of laughed and walked away, leaving me to it.

In this case, the patron was really excited about how neat this painting was, so we got right into the search. The first thing I did was search for "c a gilbert woman skull" online, to make sure we got the right painting and the artist's full name.

The first result was a Wikipedia entry for Charles Allan Gilbert, and when we clicked into it, the painting he was looking for was right at the top of the page. Great. Also great is that Wikipedia provided the name of the painting, All is Vanity.

Unfortunately, searches in our catalog for his name or the name of the painting were unsuccessful. There's always the option of going to our general books of American artwork and flipping through the tables of contents and indexes looking for these entries, but I could tell this patron wouldn't be happy with that.

So, I showed him how you could click the image on Wikipedia to see a larger version, and also how to use Google to search for high-resolution images (there weren't a lot of high-res versions, but tons of low-res images on all sorts of websites). That way, I said, he could just print from the computer right onto iron-on paper, to make his t-shirt.

He readily agreed, and it seemed like the time was right for The Copyright Talk (coincidentally, my director happened to choose just this moment to make her way back over to the desk).

Me: Oh and remember, not everything on the internet is always free to use. Some things are still under copyright, and you usually need to get permission before you use them or make things out of them.

I thought that was kind of smooth. But the patron turn to me straight on and just looked at me.

Patron (kind of offended): That painting is a hundred years old and the artist is probably dead, so it's not copyrighted any more. Besides, I'm not going to sell t-shirts, I'm just making one for myself.

I didn't want this to turn confrontational, accusatory, or preachy, but I wanted to persevere too (especially with my boss within earshot), so I just wrapped it up with,

Me: I think copyright can extend beyond the artist's life, depending on how the estate handles it. And even making a shirt for yourself might be a violation, because making one means you're not buying an officially-licensed one, which could impact their revenue. In this case you're probably all right because there were so many other copies of this painting on all sorts of websites, but it's a good thing to check into if you really want to be safe.

The patron agreed, but I think it was more to shut me up than because he was going to look into copyright.

Regardless, he thanked me, especially for showing how to find the high resolution image online, because that was something he hadn't tried. This was actually a couple weeks ago, and I haven't seen the patron around town wearing a new t-shirt, so hopefully he did the right thing.

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