Celebrate Fair Use Week – by not getting in the way

It’s Fair Use Week and lots of libraries are getting on board, offering workshops, infographics, tips, and drop in office hours that are all geared towards encouraging fair use of copyrighted materials. For some awesome examples, check out the #fairuseweek2016 hash tag on Twitter.

This is great and good activity but also a reminder (to me) that all too often, libraries, archives, and museums can be unnecessary gatekeepers when it comes to cultural heritage. We blogged about this last year and pointed to Michelle Light’s talk Controlling Goods or Promoting the Public Good: Choices for Special Collections in the Marketplace — this article calls for for an end to inappropriate control of intellectual property rights, and calls for us to change our practices around charging permission fees for use of archival materials.

Boy Scouts - With giant American flag. From The New York Public Library,
Boy Scouts – With giant American flag. From The New York Public Library,

Earlier this year, and with much fanfare, the New York Public Library announced that they had released digital access to their public domain materials, making it easy for the public to use and reuse more than 180,000 digitized items. This was an important milestone to be sure, but perhaps hidden amidst the excitement about “free for all” was the fact that NYPL also does not put restrictions around use of materials that are in copyright or where copyright status is unknown. They have provided a nice request that you credit NYPL and link back to the item in NYPL Digital Collections (and, they make it dead easy to get that link in their system).

So, as you cook up your own celebrations during Fair Use Week, I encourage you to think about other ways you can empower researchers and other users, and consider how you can get out of the way in reproductions and permissions practices (and become one of the Good Guys).