Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Today marks the day that the Internet goes black to protest SOPA(H.R.3261) and PIPA (S.968).  I had considered blacking out my blog in support, but to be honest I am not that tech-savvy and I feared loosing my blog altogether.

I'm hesitant to write about these "anti-piracy" bills, because I'm afraid my arguments and explanations will be unable to properly express how Fahrenheit-451-like these bills are and how the implications of these bills -- as they are written -- could ultimately censor our rights to free speech.

Okay so instead of writing eloquent tirades against SOPA and PIPA I'm just going to spill out the stupidity of these legislative bits of ignorance by writing my impressions. (i.e. this is an opinion piece, don't cite this in your papers, LOL). 

First of all, you must know that I am a hardcore copyright follower and I think every librarian and library assistant should be invested in protecting copyright.  At my job I AM the interlibrary loan department.  Interlibrary Loan is basically resource-sharing among libraries.  If a patron at my University needs a book on Sylvia Plath and Cold War Politics then I may request to borrow that book from another library and, in a reciprocating fashion, if another University needs to borrow an article from a journal we carry then we will lend them the journal article.  All of these transactions occur under very strict and meticulously written guidelines.  We have a limit on the number of articles we can request per year per journal, there are embargoes, and licensing agreements... Everything is stamped and emails are sent with copyright guidelines/warnings.  The collection development librarian keeps an eye on my statistics and orders materials in areas that have heavy requests to keep our collection current with student needs.  I am acutely aware, everyday, of my need to be a good steward of our libraries resources and of the intellectual property and copyright rights of the creators, scholars, and researchers who write these books and articles. 

This attention to copyright extends to other areas at my library:  course reserves are truly only for supplementary reading and no required texts are put on reserve.  The librarians teach students (in classes, online, and in library interactions) the importance of evaluating, using, and properly citing resources.  We abhor plagiarism in all forms.  Copyright signs are mounted near the computers and copy machines.  We educate faculty.  Our online databases and subscriptions are under strict licensing agreements and have protections in place to prevent use by non-University members.  In short, libraries like mine seek to ensure that copyright and fair use guidelines are followed and we are most certainly anti-piracy. 

So what's the big deal?  These bills are anti-piracy and libraries are anti-piracy, but I think piracy means something vastly different in these proposed bills.

See libraries follow a set of core beliefs called The Library Bill of Rights.  I'd like to focus specifically on the third part, "Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment."  ...the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenmentSee that's the catcher.  Information, knowledge, enlightenment... are things that should be available to everyone no matter age, income, race, gender, location, etc..... The library provides a place for people to gain knowledge.  Whether it is an article for that sophomore level English paper, a novel for a grandmother, well-researched information on Autism for the concerned mother, an aria for the budding opera singer, or an online book on accounting principles for the distance education students these items are for private study, scholarship, and researchThey are to assist individuals into becoming better, wiser, more knowledgeable individuals.

Piracy denotes robbery, unauthorized use, and/or reproducing copyrighted material.  Not reading, citing, and engaging in the material.  Piracy means that the "pirate" wants something for nothing.  To obtain a commodity without purchasing (hey libraries, public and private, purchase or subscribe to their items!) or sell/make a profit from another person's work, or they want to pass something off as their own that they didn't create.  And this is why we have copyright and Fair Use.  To make sure that libraries and library users are using these materials for education and enlightenment and not to make a dollar or prevent others from making a profit.

The scary thing is that SOPA and PIPA have taken things like infringement, the definition of wilfulness, and the commercial purposes  and apply it in broad general terms that lump everyone together.  The online distance student using an article obtained via Interlibrary Loan for a research paper?  The same as someone who illegally distributes copies of  the Twilight movie on Ebay.  And the researchers, actors, writers, painters, etc... won't be making more money or have a firmer grasp on their respective intellectual property because of SOPA and PIPA.  Rather, the large corporations -- the people/machines with the financial means to engage in rampant litigation -- will effectively shutout and shutdown libraries, obliterate opposition on the web, and otherwise use this law in ways it is not intended to be used.  The language is broad, sweeping, and can be manipulated for other purposes.  Purposes such as shutting down whistleblowers, dictating opinions, and -- yes -- whatever -ism or government in office (left-wing, right-wing, religious or not) can take this vague punitive bit of legislation and shut you up.  Most certainly un-American.

If you'd like to read more about SOPA, PIPA and the potential impact of your ability and right to information, knowledge, and enlightenment you can check out the letter from The Library Copyright Alliance, American Library Association, Association of Research Libraries, the Association of College and Research Libraries here

To tell congress to "End Piracy, Not Liberty" visit here.


Cassandra said...

Wow, this is BAD! I only learned of SOPA and PIPA half an hour ago when I wanted to look something up on Wikipedia and everything was black.
For once in my life I am glad to live in a tiny country where we don't discuss such things!

Andi said...

EXCELLENT post on this issue, Amanda. Thanks so much for sharing. I've been writing my representatives this morning and Tweeting like a madwoman. Will be sharing your link, too!

Nymeth said...

Excellent, excellent, excellent post, Amanda. You explain it all so well. As a non-American, I find that the inevitable worldwide impact of something like this adds yet another scary dimension.

Anonymous said...

Hi Amanda: How cool that you are a librarian! Sounds like at a university library - I work at a university and definitely give our ILL dept a workout. I signed the SOPA/PIPA petitions a couple places today and it sounds like, because of people like you, and the attention brought by Google, Wikipedia,etc. many senators are backing off. However, I do hope we getting better copyright protection, even if these bills are not the answer. Ruby