The Library LicenceApril 24th, 2012
Creativity now common
The Creative Commons licence is a great example of a challenge raised by the internet being met. The challenge was to have a transparent, robust licensing framework that was compatible with existing copyright law.
It had to be effective legally, it had to be understood by people, and it had to be adapted for life in a digital world. At the time CC was created, the digitally-connected world was crying out for such a system, and - happy times! - it got one.
The growth of content with Creative Commons licences worldwide is huge - Youtube alone contributes something between tens and hundreds of millions of CC-licensed pieces of content every year, and CC is now the default licence choice for several other similar user content platforms, including Flickr, and Vimeo. Creative Commons clearly fills a need, and will be with us for a while.
Newspapers: not just for wrapping fish
Now, inspired by Creative Commons, the Harvard University Library Innovation Lab has created another licence, called "Library License", or LL. This extends the Open Access principles that CC is built upon, to solve a problem that CC licensing can't - the problem of how to respect copyright, but enable libraries to make information available to people online.
This is because sometimes a published or creative work might only have a relatively short period of commercial currency (for example, newspapers), but copyright periods and laws can prevent common forms of access to the material for decades after that commercial currency has lapsed.
LL is a tool for authors and publishers who recognise that their work may be more valued by being made available non-commercially online through libraries, in that window of time between commercial currency and lapse of copyright.
How LL works
1: A creator decides that after the initial commercial interest in their upcoming work has passed, they want it to be available publicly, non-commercially, but before the copyright period has lapsed. The author negotiates this right in the terms of their contract with his publisher.
2: When the sales of the work drop beneath that agreed threshold, the Library Licence takes effect.
3: With the licence in effect, digital rights are given to recognised libraries. Publishers maintain exclusive commercial rights.
4: Library users can access the information.
Meeting information users halfway
We’ll see if LL goes on to play a significant role in the online library space, but the problem that it is trying to address is a very real one. What's great about this is that even if this initiative remains just a concept, there are still positive spinoffs by creating awareness of the information access needs of people and libraries.
Current technology has given users certain expectations about the use and availability of information, expectations that conflict with the rights they are actually allowed under law. Kicking around ideas like the Library Licence might help us bridge that gap.