Copyright Law Impacts How Libraries Provide Access to E-Books: During a Pandemic, Should It?

Today’s Read:
Congressional Research Service (CRS), COVID-19 and Libraries: E-Books and Intellectual Property Issues (Apr. 28, 2020), https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/LSB/LSB10453

This topic has been on my mind a lot since we all went on lockdown and couldn’t access physical books anymore.  The pandemic has not stopped research, of course.  There are still deadlines to be met.

My focus, as always, is on supporting our LLM students.  They cannot graduate without submitting a research paper, and some of them were still doing research as late as April (the original deadline for LLM papers this year was April 25, although many students got extensions).  To have their access to our print collection blocked by circumstances of fate was very unfair, and I felt so badly for them.

Not to make light of what is a very serious global health pandemic, but there are, of course, a few not-negative ways to spin this.  It wasn’t as if only some of the students could not access print books — the restriction affected everyone equally.  Furthermore, LLM theses are not graded on a curve, at least not as far as I know.  The students do not compete against each other.  When you are writing an LLM thesis, the goal is to do the best and most thoroughly-researched paper you can possibly do under the circumstances you find yourself.

When I was writing my own LLM thesis, I had about 6 weeks to do the bulk of the work because, in Germany, you are not permitted to begin work on your thesis until you finish your LLM coursework.  My leave of absence was nearly over by then, and I really needed to get back to my job in the library (where I had a quick look at some relevant resources in Harvard’s library collection, in addition to wrapping up the writing and editing).  I made it work the best I could.  Could my thesis have been better?  Absolutely, if I hadn’t felt so rushed to gather and process sources, and then pound it out.  But it got done, and it got a decent grade, and I was able to finish my LLM.

I tell that story to show that I really feel for the students, in whatever circumstances they find themselves.  And where they were finding themselves during the final few months of this academic year was locked out of the library, with no access to print books unless they’d checked them out beforehand.

Duplicating print and electronic resources in a sustainably cost-effective way is a conversation that we have been having in our library for a very long time, and restrictions on lending e-books is always a primary element of the discussion.  So I was glad to find the CRS report that I am discussing today, which frames this conversation against the backdrop of the current situation.

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Getting a License to Use an Out-of-Print Work Published in Germany

Today’s Read:
Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (German National Library), Lizenzierungservice Vergriffene Werke (VW-LIS) (Licensing Service for Out-of-Print Works), https://www.dnb.de/DE/Professionell/Services/VW-LiS/vwlis_node.html (https://perma.cc/K3CE-Y38F)

The German National Library (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, or DNB) recently announced a service to offer licenses to use (Nutzungslizenzen) works that are out-of print (vergriffen).

This is a very intriguing and timely announcement.  With libraries and archives currently closed to the public because of COVID-19, there has been a marked uptick in the requests that we are seeing from researchers for digitized materials.  Establishing a reasonable licensing procedure that would allow us to offer digitized versions of out-of-print works could really help ease some of the pain that researchers are experiencing right now.  I do not know if there is a similar service offered here in the United States — if not, it would be an interesting conversation to have about whether the Library of Congress should consider offering one.

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