IFLA, EBLIDA and LIBER joint statement – Licence Paralysis – Protect Copyright!

12 May 2015

Imagine a world where every book on every library shelf had different terms and conditions of use.  Where before book was borrowed a ledger was consulted as to acceptable uses for that book. Where some books may be taken home, others read only in the library, still others only read by certain people, at certain times and in certain ways.

That world is this world.

With the increasing move towards digital content, libraries are struggling under a plethora of conflicting licences for digital content. These licences are highly technical, often based in overseas legal jurisdictions and increasingly override the protections and limitations on copyright law that libraries rely on to serve their patrons.

The International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) has been increasingly concerned at the restrictions placed on the use of library content. At a recent EU Parliament breakfast on copyright and licencing IFLA, European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation Associations (EBLIDA) and LIBER (Ligue des Bibliothèques Européennes de Recherche – Association of European Research Libraries) release a joint statement on “Licence Paralysis – Protect Copyright”

We call on governments worldwide to examine when and where digital licences cause more problems than they solve. As a starting point, governments should protect limitations and exceptions to copyright law.

The statement draws attention to the problems facing libraries when contracts override copyright exceptions and limitations.

  • Thousands of licences have created a ‘sprawling jungle’ of digital content licencing with different terms and conditions
  • It is impossible for librarians, and their users, to understand all the terms and conditions, a situation exacerbated by confidentiality clauses in the licences themselves
  • Licences impose a heavy cost in time as they are negotiated and administered
  • Licences encroach on legal and ethical norms of the library profession
  • Licencing doesn’t work for many library resources, orphan works, grey literature and unpublished works often have no rights holder to contact
  • Licences of require libraries to expose themselves to foreign judicial processes and rules

The statement also picks up on the threats to fundamental rights to health, education, free press, scientific research and cultural heritage when our ability to share facts and data is restricted. This resonates with the points made in the recent Hague Declaration on Knowledge Discovery in the Digital Age.  

The ability of digital content licences to override the flexibilities the legislature has written into copyright law is a threat to the basic mission of libraries.  Countries that have responded by ensuring that copyright exceptions are preserved from contractual override include the UK, Ireland, Portugal and Belgium. It was also suggested by the Australian Law Reform Commission in the recent Copyright and the Digital Economy report. 

Legislated exceptions to copyright allow libraries to preserve cultural heritage, digitise our history and provide Australians with the knowledge and information they need in their day to day lives. They should not be subject to contractual override. 

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