Transformative works, such as fan fiction and fanvids are a sticky subject for librarians. Should librarians provide access to and market these resources the way we market other library resources? If fair use can be confirmed, there’s no problem, but what of resources in the gray area? Certainly comsumer demand for transformative works exists—look at the success of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
Yet some brilliant transformative works sample proprietary works that are not in the public domain. What do we do about these? Case in point: Here’s a transformative work that reimagines The Big Lebowski, if it had been written by Shakespeare.
Brilliant? Clearly. Hilarious? Obviously! Cultural value? I think so!
What’s an ethical librarian to do?
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Is society becoming bound and gagged by overzealous licencing? Will our culture be hamstrung by copyright? There’s cause for concern…
Thanks to my friend Catherine Wilson for sending me a link to this article by Lawrence Lessig:
For the Love of Culture: Google, copyright, and our future
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Dr. Martens encouraged me to build my public speaking skills by writing and presenting a paper at a conference. After some exploration, I became interested in transformative works, such as fan fiction, and the library profession’s stance in relation to these works. I had no experience and little knowledge of fan fiction, but as I conducted the research for my paper, I discovered that fan fiction is deeply ingrained in our culture and in some instances may represent a form of cultural commentary. The history of literature is replete with the resurrection and recycling of literary characters. Observing the interactive nature of today’s cultural products, from video games to social networking, I began to consider the value and the prevalence of interactive literature. My research gave me the opportunity to wrestle with the balance between the ethics, values and foundational principles of the library profession and the legal framework within which libraries operate. If fan fiction constitutes fair use, then libraries have a responsibility to provide their service communities with access to and information about fan fiction resources. This assertion became the premise of my paper, “Fans of Democracy: Where Does Fan Fiction Fit in the Library?”
Dr. Martens recommended that I present my paper at the Southwest Texas Popular Culture and American Culture Conference
, held in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As I had not flown in an airplane since I was four years old, had never purchased a plane ticket, and had never presented a paper at a conference, I viewed this event with some trepidation. Despite my anxieties and the sudden onslaught of a terrible head cold, I attended the conference and presented my paper, which generated much interest and several questions from the audience. I am very happy that I took this opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and stretch my professional wings.
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My friend Cat is working on her Scientific Illustration degree at the University of California Extension in Santa Cruz, and she recently sent me a link about the Orphan Works Act of 2008 (H.R.5889), introduced April 24, 2008. According to the Illustrators’ Partnership of America (IPA), this Act defines the term orphan work to mean:
“any copyrighted work whose author any infringer says he is unable to locate with what the infringer himself decides has been a ‘reasonably diligent search.'”
The IPA says:
“the bill has a disproportionate impact on visual artists because it is common for an artist’s work to be published without credit lines or because credit lines can be removed by others…”
Digital editing software makes this easy to do with any images available online. (Unless perhaps an application like copyright monkey can protect the image from being copied and edited?)
This Act will force visual artists to subsidize registries using image recognition technology, and register all of the images they wish to protect as their intellectual property, at considerable cost to the visual artist. According to the IPA:
“These databases would become one-stop shopping centers for infringers to search for royalty-free art. Any images not found in the registries could be considered orphans.”
Here is the U.S. Copyright Office’s information on Orphan Works. On the one hand, defining orphan works and allowing works to be declared “orphans” after performing due dilligence toward locating the creator will allow libraries, museums and archives to create digital copies of works to which access must otherwise be extremely limited–works that may be disintegrating and require digital preservation, or works that could be extremely valuable to globally dispersed information seekers, but cannot be digitized due to unknown intellectual property rights. My instinct is to support legislation that will facilitate preservation and increased access to valuable resources that are stuck in a legal limbo. But it appears that the legislation, as it stands, could create some significant problems for visual artists. Illustrators of children’s books are just one of the groups potentially impacted by this bill–a population in which I have some interest as a children’s-librarian-in-training.
The Illustrators’ Partnership of America has a blog about the Orphan Works issue here. I’m grateful to Cat for directing my attention to this angle of the issue.
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Today I spent five and a half hours sifting through photographs with my mother and grandparents, selecting content and collecting metadata for my digital collection. I think I ended up with about 25 photographs taken by my grandfather or a deceased family member. I couldn’t believe how many albums and boxes of photographs my grandparents have! I’m really developing an appreciation for the meticulousness of this kind of genealogical data collection.
After reading this blogpost and exchanging collection plans with my classmate Vernell, I’m finding my understanding of copyright to still be a little fuzzy in some areas. If a photograph is taken by a professional photographer, do the rights to that photograph pass into the public domain 70 years after the creator’s death, or do the rights to the photograph belong to the studio indefinitely? If the photography studio no longer exists, do the rights belong to the inheritors of the studio for longer than the 70-years-after-creator’s-death time period? I found professional wedding photos of my great grandparents, circa 1910, and while I’m certain that the photographer has been dead for 70 years or very close to it, I’m not certain if the rights to these photos still belong to a studio or not.
Another interesting case: I found a newspaper article published circa 1950, including a photo that belongs to my great grandmother. The photo is of my great grandmother and her classmates outside their school house, taken in 1900 or 1901, according to the newspaper article. I did not find the original photograph in my searching, just the newspaper copy. So I wonder, can I include this article and photo copy in my collection, since the original photograph would be in the public domain? Or would this be an infringement, since the newspaper article may still be under copyright? I will post these questions on our class website to see if any of my clever classmates can help me answer them.
I will have to set another date to collect audio recordings of family members’ oral history. I figured out how to use my new digital recording device (despite the fact it came with no instructions! Ha!), and I managed to install the Audacity audio file editing software on my computer, along with the required LAME code needed to convert files into mp3 format. As clueless as I feel about so many technological applications, I’m very proud of myself today!
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After further discussion with Doc Martens, I have more confidence in my digital collections project. My plan is to create a collection of photographs and sound recordings of my maternal relatives, along with a family tree going back to my great-great grandparents (if possible), to capture genealogical information and some of the oral history of my family. For a while I was afraid I would be unable to use some of my grandparents’ most interesting photographs, such as my grandfather and his classmates standing in front of their one-room Pennsylvania school house, circa 1925. According to Copyright.gov, all works created prior to 1979 are under copyright until 70 years after the creator’s death. Since we don’t know who took some of my grandparents’ pictures, or when the photographer died, I was afraid they would be unusable. But Doc Martens said that orphan works created by someone most certainly dead would be acceptable to include in my collection.
I have three CDs of my grandfather and his cousin Lyle telling stories from their childhood and some experiences from WWII that I want to harvest for my collection. Since Lyle died several years ago, again I was concerned I couldn’t use his stories for my collection, being unable to ask his permission. But since I asked my grandfather and Lyle to make the recordings for the purpose of preservation and to collect facts for a book I hoped to write one day, Doc Martens felt using the sound recordings would be admissable. I couldn’t find any guiding information on the matter on the Oral History Association website, but I’m certain Lyle wouldn’t have minded me using his stories for this purpose. He shared them with me because he wanted to share them with the world. This project will allow me to do more towards that end than I have in the last ten years. I haven’t given up on writing the book, but I’m not sure I have enough material. All the more reason to encourage my grandfather to record more stories.
I bought a cheap mp3 player with a built-in microphone that will supposedly allow me to record and transfer the audio files to my computer for editing. I need to break it out and see if I can figure out how it works.
Having played with the collection platform Omeka a bit more, I’m a little disappointed that one can’t apparently view the photograph and the associated metadata in the same screen. Unless I’m missing something. I’m not certain that Omeka is going to allow the organization scheme I had envisioned, but I don’t know everything about how it operates yet. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. If not, I’ll at least learn something from my frustration, I’m sure.
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