Five Theses on the Future of Special Collections
peter.suber's bookmarks 2014-02-17
"The future of special collections is openness. We are not the creators of our collections; we are their stewards. They were entrusted to us to preserve them, certainly, but preservation without use is an empty victory. It ought to be our primary purpose at all times to minimize barriers to use, so it is all the more shameful when we interpose such barriers ourselves, not out of concern for the health of the collections, but out of the misguided belief that we are entitled to control, even to monetize, their use. When we claim copyright over our digital collections, or impose permission fees or licensing terms on users, we are arguably misrepresenting the law, and certainly violating one of the central ethical tenets of the profession: to promote the free dissemination of information. And, when those conditions are demanded by donors, we ought to consider whether we can accept collections under such circumstances. No one reading this can be unaware of the plundering of the public domain that has occurred over the last several decades at the behest of corporations determined to wring every last dollar out of their intellectual property. Continual extensions of copyright terms have impeded scholarship and caused paralysis in our profession, locking up the overwhelming majority of out-of-print books that have no chance of further commercial exploitation for the sake of a privileged few. Through an understandable excess of caution, the tendency at most institutions is to retreat from the fuzzy edges of the rights we do have, always wondering, “What if somebody complains? What if somebody sues?” The potentially devastating consequences are often enough to scuttle any expeditions into the gray areas of the law. Why, then, would we ever add to that morass of anxiety and constraint by imposing use restrictions of our own? ..."