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Musings of a librarian, former archivist, musician, bibliophile, and tech-obsessed.


A Few Personal Thoughts on Copyright

Many concerns have surfaced among librarians and archivists concerning creating and maintaining digital collections. Before pursuing digitization, these custodians must first assure that the collections they are sharing with a growing global community are either in the public domain or owned by their institution. Digitizing by these guidelines protects institutions from costly lawsuits from creators or copyright owners, and saves valuable resources if projects have to be taken offline due to copyright infringements.

Proving ownership of copyright is especially difficult in sound recordings. Archivists and librarians are burdened by proving works-for-hire, copyright chain of custody (in which the heirs can assume ownership), copyright of unpublished works, and dealing with potentially orphaned published materials in their collections. According to current copyright law, archivists and librarians cannot preserve materials until they show signs of deterioration; sound recordings are frequently too deteriorated to preserve and digitize by this point. Without assuring that collections can be made freely accessible after digitization, many granting agencies will not fund digitization projects, placing a further burden on cultural institutions.

Nationally, the US Copyright Act of 1976 protects the copyright of materials, including that of sound recordings. Allowances for libraries and archives include fair use and the reproductions by libraries and archives, Sections 107 and 108, accordingly, though exemptions in both of these sections exist for sound recordings. All post-1976 recordings are protected for at least 95 years. Currently, recordings made before this point will begin to fall into the public domain in 2067. With the exception of recordings created by the Federal government, there are currently no sound recordings in the public domain in the United States.

The United States possessed some of the most strict copyright law in the international community until recently. In September 2011, the European Union extended sound recording copyright 20 additional years, from a 50- to a 70-year term. This law was changed in part due to recording companies and a few select artists, though many scholars and economists disagreed with the decision. This extension was only slightly less damaging than the extension proposed in 2006 that would have made the limit 95 years. Australia, another leader in the library and archival sphere, has a 70-year protection limit on sound recordings, though audio broadcasts are only protected for 50 years.

In many academic institutions, we hold materials from other countries. When I did an internship at the Bulgarian and Macedonian National Education and Cultural Center while I was at the University of Pittsburgh, I had to look up the copyright restrictions on their recordings, which were so precious because many of them were smuggled out of the region due to civil wars, and may be the only extant or one of the few existing copies. One of the major difficulties of creating digital collections that can be accessed globally is that some materials may be under copyright in their country of origin but not in other countries. Librarians, archivists, and other cultural custodians across the globe should continue to petition for copyright term limits that protect the material, allow for preventative preservation, and protect the interests of artists.


Recent Developments in Copyright, December 2011

Copying a message from the Library of Congress's Copyright Office:

The Copyright Office has received proposals for classes of works to be exempted from the prohibition on circumvention of technological measures that control access to copyrighted works. This is the first step in the Office's triennial rulemaking under 17 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1)(C)-(D). The Office will soon announce the early February 2012 deadline for submission of comments supporting and opposing the proposals as well as the early March 2012 deadline for submission of reply comments. The proposals may be found on the Copyright Office website at

For those who are interested in copyright, especially audiovisual, telecommunications, and software/firmware copyright, I encourage you to read through these statements that may effect your job and our profession. At the very least read the statements made by the leading institutions and organizations, who will have a louder voice in the debate.



Finishing Up for the Semester

Over the last month, I've been focusing on crossing things off my work and professional to-do list. My two SLIS practicum students have finished their projects, including a new finding aid that was posted today, and over 300 metadata records for the School of Music audio recordings, to be used in a future digital collection.

I also participated in a interviewing process for the consortium's new Digital Projects Coordinator, who was just hired (she starts in March). Until then, as the upcoming head of the Digital Practices Committee, I will be making sure that we have completed all of our initiatives for before the June deadlines, and that we have all of the documentation in place for the Coordinator when she starts; while I won't start until January, I've been reviewing all of the documentation that I might need. We have our last meeting of the year tomorrow, and we'll be mainly focusing on project plans.

In addition to my normal volume of "let me get this in before you close for the holidays" photo digitization requests, I also digitized a small, alumnus photo album in-house. He didn't want to donate it, yet, but is allowing us to use the images for projects (I sent a Deed of Gift requesting copyright of the digitized images). This is one of several digitized alumni albums that will definitely be useful in the upcoming year for the university's 125th anniversary.

I also wrote a third, shorter article for our annual newsletter, featuring photos from our collections used in the CUA photo history book and a Veteran's Day presentation by an alumnus.

The piles on my desk are decreasing as I put away the books and printed reference publications that I have used over the last few months. I'm clearing away the post-it note reminders stuck to my computer monitor. While I still have next week, I feel like I have almost everything settled before I leave for break.


Digitization, Collaboration, and Communication

Over the past several weeks, I have been getting a lot of digitization requests for several projects that correlate with CUA's upcoming 125th anniversary celebrations. One of the more frequent and more interesting series of requests I've received relate to the Music Librarians' history of music at CUA, which became available last week as a digital exhibit (presented in omeka). They have been adding to the site this week and plan to contribute more to it in the future. It contains many photographs from our collections, scans of documents and music manuscripts, and audio recordings of school songs (all digitized by yours truly). What I like best about this exhibit is that it displays a variety of formats and materials from several collections to provide a comprehensive history of music at CUA. It also shows their dedication to the in-depth research needed for this project.

I've also been working on two articles for the Archives's annual newsletter. The article that I finished today is also tied into the 125 years of photographs in our collections, many of which have been used in two photograph books, The Catholic University of America and Brookland, in the past two years. The article gave me a good excuse to touch base with the authors to get some information from them for the article, and to see if they have any future projects in mind in which they will use our collections.


Film Events in DC

Over the last two weeks, I was able to attend two film events in DC after work. The first was at the National Academy of Sciences in the Keck Center, and was a double feature of silent films, Reward of Courage (1921) and Lucky Stars (1925), both accompanied by the Snark Ensemble. The first film was an educational film made by the predecessor of the American Cancer Society, and was about early detection of cancer. The second film was a comedy about quack doctors.

The second event was a Marilyn Monroe film, The Misfits, shown at the National Theater, in their second floor mezzanine. Both were free and open to the public!

The great news is that I found out that the National Theater usually has free screenings of old films most Monday nights! They haven't posted their December schedule yet, but I'm looking forward to more free films!