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Copyright, licensing, and digital rights management are some of the more complex issues any future all-digital research library must face.  Others have tackled this issue in treatises and textbooks.  What follows is an over-simplified discussion of copyright and licensing and how it relates to the feasibility of an all-digital library.

First, copyright.  According to the U.S. Copyright Office, “What does copyright protect? Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.”   The actual copyright law is 392 pages, so suffice it to say copyright is the law that protects the creator of a copyrighted work, allowing the creator to profit from their creation.  Cornell University has a chart that outlines which materials fall under copyright protection and which do not:   This chart also serves as an example of Creative Commons Licensing.

Licensing works in conjunction with copyright.  An easy way for a creator to license their creation while maintaining their copyright  is with the use of a Creative Commons license.  Creative Commons, founded in 2001, provides free licenses for copyrighted works.  These licenses authorize use of the copyrighted work within the constraints of the license.  The website provides the details of these licenses:   Using these licenses allows work to be used in the public domain, yet reserves all the legal rights of
the copyright holder.

Digital rights management actually refers to a category of software used to enforce copyright restrictions.  Essentially, digital rights management software uses fundamental electronic safeguards to protect copyrighted works from illegal copying.  This is the software that allows a user to view an ebook from a library catalog, but prevents the user from copy-and-pasting the ebook into a Word document.

Copyright holders will fight to the death – and beyond – for the right to make money off their work, and Congress has obliged by authorizing copyrights to be extended for up to 70 years after the death of the creator. (U.S. Copyright Law, page 121)   This allows copyright owners and their estates to collect money on the copyright, but the extreme restrictions and heavy fines for violation of copyrights has worked against the creators:  their works are not enriching the public domain. If  “Unconstrained access to past works helps determine the richness of future works,” (Bailey, p. 116) then these copyright holders are essentially cutting off their nose to spite their face. If the price to use the original work is too high, nothing will be built from it.

Print and electronic media differ in their copyright uses.  If I buy a paperback book, I can read it and then loan it out to my friends.  I can read it out loud to a group.  I can leave it in a chair at the airport and hope that someone else will pick it up to enjoy.

This is not the case with electronic media.  Once a song, book, or movie is downloaded, only the person who purchased the download may use it. If the library purchases an ebook, how do they legally provide access to that ebook?  This is a critical issue for an all-digital library, because the fines for breaking an electronic copyright are extremely high.  Thus far, the problem has been resolved by paying for licensing through publishers and aggregators, but these continuing fees can also dramatically increase the budget of a library.

In order for an all-digital library to truly exist, research materials will have to be shared in an open access or creative commons environment. Academics have largely adapted to open access publishing for their research:  they expect to receive research for free, although they are willing to buy their own copy for future reference. “It [published academic research] is given away to publishers, (and thereby colleagues and the general public) for peer recognition and as a contribution to the advancement of knowledge for the public good. It is perhaps because academics-as-authors give their works away freely, that they expect to do the same with others’ works as users.”  (Gadd, E., Oppenheim, C., and Probets, S., p. 15).

Given the current climate of filing multi-million dollar lawsuits against college students for sharing music, it may seem that an open access environment is an impossible dream.  However, evidence suggests that the larger product markets are changing.  It is possible to make money from copyrights in conjunction with allowing free access to creative works.

Take Lil’ Wayne, for example.  If you are “of a certain age,” you may not know who (or what?) Lil’ Wayne is, but the current generation of college students are very familiar with his work.  Lil’ Wayne became one of the best-selling musical artists of 2008 by giving away his music for free.  Those of us over the age of 40 remember bootleg cassettes, those much copied (and terrible quality) versions of cassettes created by someone bold enough to sneak a tape recorder into a rock concert.  Mixtapes are the current generation’s bootlegs, right down to the dubious quality.  Lil’ Wayne flooded the underground music market with mixtapes (the musical equivalent of the draft version of a research report).   By flooding the street market with music that people wanted to hear, Lil Wayne created a market for himself.   He learned which songs were requested at clubs and which were not.  When he finally did release his commercial album, it immediately shot up the charts, earning the artist a great deal of money and a Grammy award.

At some level, creating sales out of offering publications for free is simply a numbers game.  National Academies Press offers many of their books online, complete free. In “The Deep Niche,” Michael Jensen describes how one 10-year old title, freely available on the web, received 11,500 visits in 2006. Those visits resulted in $255 in sales from print and digital copies for the small publishing company.

Copyright, licensing, and digital rights management are critical issues for an all-digital library.  In the current environment, it appears that copyright law and digital rights management software combined would not allow such a library to be developed.   However, as open access publishing and licensing concepts seep from the academic and street environments into the business and legal world, the availability of complete open access may simply be a matter of time.

Works Cited:

Bailey, Charles W.  Strong copyright + DRM + Weak Net neutrality = Digital Dystopia? Information Technology and Libraries.  Sept. 2006.  P. 116 – 127.

Christga, R., ‘Tha Carter III’ Takes Lil Wayne Platinum.  All things considered, July 8, 2009. Accessed 4/21/09.
Gadd, E., Oppenheim, C. & Probets, S. RoMEO Studies 3 – How academics expect to use open-access research papers. 2003. Department of Information Science, Loughborough University, Loughborough, LE11 3TU. Accessed 3/29/09.

Hirtle, Peter B. Cornell Copyright Information Center. Accessed 4/21/09.  How Lil Wayne Markets Himself and Why He’s Successful.  Publish date unknown. Accessed 4/21/09.

Jensen, M.  The Deep Niche. The Journal of Electronic Publishing.  Ann Arbor, MI: Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan, University Library. vol. 10, no. 2, Spring 2007. Accessed 4/21/09. [LMS: Fixed broken link]

United States Copyright Law. Accessed 4/20/09.

United States Copyright Office. Frequently Asked Questions: (accessed 4/20/09).


Open access publishing is slowly gaining a foothold in scholarly publishing.  The availability of scholarly publications for research through open access publishing is critical to the feasibility of an all digital research library.

In 2007 President George W. Bush signed a bill allowing the National Institute of Health to publish research as open access documents.  The NIH Public Access Policy implements Division G, Title II, Section 218 of PL 110-161 (Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008) states:

SEC. 218. The Director of the National Institutes of Health shall require that all investigators funded by the NIH submit or have submitted for them to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication, to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication: Provided, That the NIH shall implement the public access policy in a manner consistent with copyright law.

Some members of Congress are trying to stop this policy from spreading to other federal agencies, with backing from the publishing lobby.   H.R. 801 was introduced by Representative John Conyers on February 3, 2009. Called the “Fair Copyright in Research Works Act,” this bill seeks to stop public access publishing from spreading to other Federal agencies.  This bill, or a similar version, has been introduced in previous sessions of Congress, but has been overshadowed by larger problems.  However, Representative Conyers, who oversees the House Judiciary Committee, has recently abolished the subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Policy.  It is believed that Rep. Conyers made this move in an effort to pass H.R. 801 this session.

Peter Suber believes that the success of the NIH Public Access Policy will provide key evidence to support the defeat of H.R. 801.  Currently, the NIH publishes 80,000 papers per year to advance research in every area of biomedicine. Even the most reluctant publishers will be forced to adapt to open access or fail if they wish to remain relevant.  Peter Suber foresees a lawsuit from the publishing industry lobby based on copyright protection, but predicts that this will fail.  The publishing industry will soon reach a tipping point in favor of open access publishing.

Mr. Suber also believes the current economic recession will play a role in reaching this tipping point, and not simply by rendering H.R. 801 as unimportant.  He states, “If TA publishers found OA journal business models unattractive a few years ago, one reason was that subscription models still looked better.  But the balance of attraction has to change as the odds of survival under a subscription model decline…and today at least three [OA] publishers are reporting profits, including BMC…which is based in expensive London.” (¶14, SPARC newsletter).

Even the most prestigious universities are not immune from financial pressures in the current economy. Every budget item is weighed and scrutinized, and in this economic climate, paying for access to subscription databases and  publishing contracts is relegated to the lower levels of the priority list.   On March 20, 2009, M.I.T. announced that ALL faculty research would be published in a free online repository.   The press release mentions that although other universities, like Harvard and Stanford, publish research from select departments as open access documents, MIT would set a higher standard by publishing research from every department in its online repository.

Mr. Suber tempers expectations that complete open access will be reached in 2009, much less 2010.  “[M]aking predictions based on what appears to be wise rather than what appears to be unavoidable, or treating reasons as causes, is most likely to pay off when the relevant players are informed and rational.”  (¶23, SPARC newsletter).  Indeed, those who oppose open access publishing surely believe that they are ones who are “informed and rational.”

As the quantity and quality of open access publications improve, so too will the likelihood that an all digital library will come into fruition.

Works cited:

Fair Copyright in Research Works Act.  Accessed March 29, 2009.

Plotkin, Natasha.  MIT Will Publish All Faculty Articles Free In Online Repository
The Tech.  Online Edition. Volume 129, Issue 14.  Published: March 20, 2009.   Article accessed March 29, 2009.

Suber, Peter.  Predictions for Open Access, 2009.  SPARC Open Access Newsletter, Issue #218.  December 2, 2008. Accessed March 30, 2009.

Website, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Accessed March 29, 2009.

UC Merced Library bills itself as “Not what other research libraries are, what they will be.” This library is designed to be a model for future libraries. Traditional libraries may be envious of its sleek design and model for operations: 65% of the budget is used for collections development, and only 35% goes toward operations. The staff is purposefully slim, utilizing library assistants and student workers to help keep the operations budget down. The staff is available to answer questions in person, and via text, chat, e-mail, and phone.

The library staff has been energetic in their outreach efforts, conducting many classes to teach the customers how to use the library resources. From August 2007 – July 2008, over 100 classes in library instruction were taught to over 3000 participants. Given that there are 2,718 students on campus, and 898 faculty, if each participant attended only one class, then the library staff taught a class to virtually every student and faculty on campus. While that “if” is unlikely, it should be acknowledged that this level of outreach is outstanding.

The library collections are a mix of digital and print. It is interesting that the library collection features 70,000 books, but 150,000 eBooks. Online journals, databases, and online course readings also feature prominently in the collection. UC Merced Library has also assumed a leading role in digitizing personal collections. For example, “[t]he Library used a grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services to create hundreds of digitized images of unique works of Japanese art belonging to the Ruth and Sherman Lee Institute for Japanese Art at the Clark Center in Hanford, California. High quality images of these artworks, enhanced with searchable metadata, are (or will soon be) available to anyone with an internet connection.”

The library itself features collaborative workspaces with comfortable sofas, private rooms with whiteboards and office furniture, and a quiet reading area on the fourth floor. The entire library has wireless and wired network access. The building is a modern glass and metal design with clean lines and windows for walls. The pictures on the website are beautiful; the library appears to be the antithesis of cement libraries with dark corners and dusty stacks. The library was also awarded LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Gold Certification, which means the building is as energy-efficient and economical as it is beautiful.

Because this library concept is still fairly new, it will be interesting to see how it develops, particularly with the economy in California facing steep budget cuts. Will the library thrive with their budgeting design? If the University is forced to cut their budget, where will it be trimmed: the digital collection development, print books, database licensing? Or perhaps the current budget is perfect for maintaining quality service to its patrons without sacrificing anything in the collection. After the library has been in operation for a while, does the library see a need to add to the staff, and if so, would they continue to add library assistants or degreed librarians?

As a model for future libraries, it would be interesting to review customer satisfaction surveys from UC Merced. The results of those surveys would certainly point the way toward whether an all-digital library is feasible.

Sources Cited:

Ithaka ( conducted surveys in 2000, 2003, and 2006 to better understand “how new technologies are impacting faculty attitudes and behaviors.” (Housewright and Schonfeld, p. 4). These studies attempt to teach the academic library community what services the faculty likes, and how to add value to existing services so that the library remains a focal point for campus research.

As should be expected on a large campus with diverse research areas, each department has a different view of the library. Ithaka found that “[m]ore than 80% of humanities faculty think that the librarians’ role remains just as important, but less than 60% of scientists support that opinion – social scientists fall in the middle, at around 70%…” (Housewright and Schonfeld, p. 5) Faculty attitudes toward the usefulness of librarians can be further broken down by discipline. “While about 80% of sociology faculty feel that the role of librarians is of continuing importance on their campus, only about 30% of economists….agreed with this view.” (Housewright and Schonfeld, p. 4). In general, the scientific disciplines ranked librarians and the library’s electronic catalog below other electronic discovery tools as their first choice for locating resources.

Across the board, faculty members expected to depend less upon the library as their first choice for research, as they increase their dependence upon other electronic discovery tools. Paradoxically, librarians expect to become more important as the first choice for research because they know how much work goes into acquiring these electronic databases for the university. If the faculty can’t actually see the librarians working behind the scenes on database licensing and electronic collection development, how can the faculty understand that librarians still provide value in an electronic environment? This report suggests that libraries step up their marketing efforts on campus in order to increase awareness of the library’s role in providing electronic research tools for the university. Texas A&M has successfully used marketing as a means to increase the use of the library’s virtual reference services.

How are academic libraries adapting to these changing attitudes? Some libraries are attempting to license as many databases as the budget allows.  However, the research in Ithaka’s report suggests that libraries should approach their licensing efforts strategically, taking into consideration which departments of the university are ready to make the switch to all digital resources, and which disciplines still prefer to read from print journals. This is particularly important so that libraries do not change to all digital resources in an attempt to save money and shelf space; they may end up wasting their budgets on resources that a good portion of the faculty will not use. In any situation, rushing people into changes they are unwilling to make is not a productive strategy. 

Ithaka’s report focuses mostly on existing electronic resources in the form of databases. However, libraries are also active in the creation of digital collections through digital preservation. Preserving historical research articles, artifacts, and photo collections can help a library create a unique profile and attract a variety of researchers.  For example, the University of North Texas maintains the Portal to Texas History ( on its library site. This digital collection benefits North Texas as a whole by attracting researchers of all stripes to the North Texas Library Website.  If libraries maintain a close relationship with faculty as they develop and create a personal digital collection for the university, everyone will win. The library will have a unique collection that the faculty, students, and outside researchers will treasure.

Active collaboration between campus libraries and campus faculty will help raise the profile of librarians, and increase the faculties’ understanding of the role librarians play in acquiring electronic resources. Librarians must not passively assume “everyone knows” that libraries provide these resources. If librarians actively work with faculty members during the print-to-digital transition through workshops, faculty interviews, and regular surveys, librarians will be able to maintain a prominent role on campus whether or not their library is all print, all digital, or somewhere in between.

Source Publications:

Housewright, Ross and Schonfeld, Roger. “Ithaka’s 2006 Studies of Key Stakeholders in the digital Transformation in Higher Education.” Ithaka: Publications. 18 Aug 2008. Ithaka. 22 Feb 2009 <;.

MacDonald, Karen, vanDuinkerken, Wyoma and Stephens, Jane. “It’s All in the Marketing: The Impact of a Virtual Reference Marketing Campaign at Texas A&M University.” Reference & User Services Quarterly 47(2008): 375 – 385.