© enforcement/compliance is not the right mindset for libraries

I got a question from a libraryperson recently, about user activities that had never occurred to me as copyright concerns before. This spurred some thoughts, also connected to some talks I have given about how libraries can support our users with respect to copyright.

To be clear, this wasn’t a situation where I wasn’t sure if this copyright-implicating activity was permitted. This was an activity -I was not sure actually touched on any of the rights of a copyright holder-. Since I can’t give legal advice, I did not offer a final opinion. (Offering one publicly here would still be inappropriate because the questioner may be able to identify themself in this description.)

It’s also worth noting here that “actively gives you info that they’re going to infringe” requires -knowing which activities are unquestionably infringing. There are VERY FEW of those. (“I am ripping these DVDs to sell copies on the street” = pretty unquestionably infringing. “I am ripping these DVDs to make remix videos” = quite possibly legal. “I am ripping these DVDs” = not enough information to know anything!) Many of the enforce-y questions libraryfolk send my way are based on the idea that “infringing” is easily defined and easily avoided, and that any uncertainty on either front is a sign of some sort of moral failing.

My questioner’s creative copyright thinking was, on it’s own, a good thing! We should think creatively or speculatively about possible copyright infringement theories, because it’s good to try to anticipate problems. But creative anticipation of copyright problems -in conjunction with- an abundance of caution is not a good thing. We shouldn’t be doing the content industry’s work for them, especially when it comes to users, some of whom -only have access to content, connectivity, and technology- through us.

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