Cindy Orr provides information on the ALA’s Presidential Task Force on Equitable Access to Electronic Content in her monthly blog post.
Last year, the Council of the American Library Association (ALA) passed a resolution calling for the creation of a Presidential Task Force to study the issues of digital rights management and equitability of access to electronic content.
The Task Force (of which I am a member) has been working via email and conference calls, and recently had a two-day working meeting in person. The Task Force’s charge includes studying challenges and potential solutions in libraries for improved electronic content access and options for compromise agreements between the library and publishing communities regarding access to digital content, among others. The group is to produce a report by the ALA Conference this summer and will have a public program, as well.
With all the headlines about the 26 checkout rule from HarperCollins, there is an increased interest in the committee’s work. To keep current on the work of the Task Force, or to comment or express your opinion, be sure to check our website. This is a very complicated subject—check the Further Reading section for background reading on the legal issues, copyright law, the different formats and models available, pricing, publishers’ and authors’ and libraries’ varying interests, and much more.
On behalf of the Task Force, I would like to suggest that librarians study the issues, articulate what we would realistically like to see happen in this arena, and resist the urge to overreact. As Christopher Harris, one of my colleagues on the committee, says in a recent School Library Journal article, what we need is to discuss and talk through these issues, not lash out in rage. Librarians historically get their facts straight and check their sources carefully. We also uphold copyright law.
I would like to add that we need to educate ourselves and act within the arena that exists right now while we plan for, and try to influence the future. That doesn’t mean that we can’t work to revise copyright law, or try to negotiate new models, or change anything else, but it’s fruitless to argue that all works should be available to the public for free regardless of their copyright status.
It also means recognizing that, no matter what we’d like the facts to be, in most cases we don’t own electronic works, but license them. We also need to consider the reality that authors and publishers and wholesalers need to be paid or they will go out of business.
It took a very long time to get downloadable eBooks into libraries. I personally know people who worked on that for years before finally succeeding through OverDrive. And it’s taken years more to convince publishers to sell their digital works to libraries. There are, at this late date, still major publishers who have not found a sustainable model that they can commit to.
While venting anger at HarperColliins may feel good, we should try to remember that they were one of the very first large publishers to agree to take a chance on libraries. They have stated that they consider this 26 checkout model to be a “work in progress.”
I hope that we can remember that things in the digital world are still evolving quickly. Models will develop. New publishers will sign on. We’ll work it out if we stick to our principles of doing our homework, following the law, and advocating for a realistic solution in order to assure equitable access for readers now and in the future.