The Information Policy Blog

The (unofficial) blog of the BCLA Information Policy Committee

Organizational Transparency and Closed Doors

We haven’t been talking about the Library Archives Canada/Canadiana digitization project here on the IPC blog these past few weeks for a couple of reasons. The first is mostly because a lot of the discussion has been taking place on mailing lists I’m not actually on, so whenever I sit down to write I feel a bit like I’m missing some crucial context. But the bigger reason is that other people have been writing very clearly on the matter and I haven’t had anything to add.

I’d suggest that the very best piece of commentary I’ve read has been Mita Williams’ The Heritage Heritage Minute and The Digital Library of Canada We Lost. She goes through the chronology of the situation and provides a very even-handed analysis of why people have concerns about the project. Her essay is peppered with links, including to Kevin Read’s We Ask for Transparency, Heather Morrison’s explanation of why the misuse of Open Access in the leaked documents was problematic, and of course Bibliocracy (I’ll just link to Myron’s most recent post which came after Williams’ was published.

In the face of all that there’s not a lot that I would be adding. But I want to make a comment tying this together with the other big information news of the last month. The American Library Association just had one of their annual conferences and at it they passed a resolution about the NSA spying scandal saying:

that the American Library Association recognize Edward Snowden as a whistleblower who, in releasing information that documents government attacks on privacy, free speech, and freedom of association, has performed a valuable service in launching a national dialogue about transparency, domestic surveillance, and overclassification.

Interestingly, the next day that resolution was “replaced” by this resolution in which Snowden’s name was removed and the language was changed to reflect a more general support for “privacy, open government, government transparency and accountability.” In a letter to the Social Responsibilities Round Table Al Kagan said:

As progressive councilors have discussed for the past two years, it is all fine and good to support the results of whistleblowing, but this does not happen without the brave action of individuals. Whistleblowers put their jobs, their careers,their freedom, and sometimes their lives in danger by taking bold measures to bring abuse of the public trust to the media. Nothing happens without the individuals, and they need all the support that they can get.

He also called for librarians to be braver and lead discussion, rather than simply accepting backroom deals.

Libraries in general could benefit from a more open discussion of how our organizations work, especially when some members have issues with the results. Being quiet and unquestioning doesn’t help anyone improve.

access, surveillance & edward snowden

As it stands right now, there are three biggish stories going on in the information policy world right now. As is usual with the IPC, access to information is our unifying thread.

First the World Intellectual Property Organization’s treaty that wants to ensure print-disabled citizens can’t have access to materials for them. That’s going on right now. In Canada library organizations are urging Canada’s negotiating team to argue for certain positions:

  • That authorized agencies have the right to bypass a technological protection measure to make alternate format available to another authorized agency or qualified individual worldwide.
  • That the treaty not include a “commercially available” restriction on the cross border supply of alternate formats. This would have the effect of placing cumbersome, if not unworkable, requirements authorized entities and severely impede the availability of content to all, especially in underdeveloped and developing countries.
  • That cumbersome and unnecessary treaty language referencing other legislative (US fair use) or treaty (Berne’s 3 step test) regimes is unnecessary.

CULC’s full letter is available here. One of the issues with these treaties and negotiations has to do with our old friend Digital Rights Management (or TPM in Canada) and how the language of these agreements (and Canadian laws) are set up to benefit well-resourced lobbying groups even while there’s some reasonable lip-service paid. So this is an issue.

There’s also rumbling about Library and Archives Canada putting up paywalls on digitized materials. This one doesn’t have anything official out there yet, so we’ll just link to some preparatory ire.

And then thirdly there’s the big American news about the NSA keeping databases of phone calls and the program PRISM that gives the NSA access to internet companies’ information and just today Edward Snowden came forward as the leaker of that NSA information.

There’s a lot out there on these things to read. David Simon (of The Wire fame) wrote about how this PRISM thing isn’t a scandal because this is how the law works. Warrants are still necessary, and do you really want to take these tools out of law enforcement’s hands?

Frankly, I’m a bit amazed that the NSA and FBI have their shit together enough to be consistently doing what they should be doing with the vast big-data stream of electronic communication. For us, now — years into this war-footing and this legal dynamic — to loudly proclaim our indignation at the maintenance of an essential and comprehensive investigative database while at the same time insisting on a proactive response to the inevitable attempts at terrorism is as childish as it is obtuse. We want cake, we want to eat it, and we want to stay skinny and never puke up a thing. Of course we do.

Others are talking about what shoddy journalism these leaked stories are since all the tech companies are denying that they’re participating. And there’s some indication that all these companies are doing is just making the NSA’s job easier within the bounds of the law.

I have some sympathy with David Simon (and John Scalzi, for that matter) when they say that this whole thing is just how the world works and pretending to be surprised now is bullshit. Money and Power and all that. These are the laws we made to create a legal surveillance state. But that doesn’t make it right. (It’s also impossible to feel any sympathy for (and infuriating to see) a government who is trying to make itself out as the gut-wrenched victim though.)

There’ll be more coming. But one of the things to be aware of here is that even though it’s possible the only person who did anything illegal in regards to this whole NSA program is Edward Snowden for leaking it (and it is very interesting that Hong Kong is where he’s hoping to avoid being extradited; the Chinese probably have more clout on that than they were portrayed as in The Dark Knight) that’s a huge problem. We wouldn’t be able to talk about what these surveillance laws hath wrought if someone hadn’t snuck them out. This just highlights the importance of challenging and changing laws to fit the needs of citizens instead of law-enforcement and spy agencies.

Of course, it is possible to talk about these policies even without a scandal of illegality. Michael Geist has a great post (filled with links and analysis) talking about how the issues raised by PRISM apply in Canada:

Does this mean Canadian authorities are engaged in similar forms of surveillance? That phone companies such as Bell and Telus are subject to warrants similar to those faced by Verizon? That Internet companies co-operate with Canadian authorities? That Canadian and U.S. authorities share information obtained through programs such as the Verizon meta-data program or PRISM? That Canadians are targeted by the U.S. programs?

The law would suggest that all of these things are entirely possible. Given the integrated communications networks and the increased information sharing, it seems very likely. Yet since virtually everything remain shrouded in secrecy, Canadians don’t know for sure.

That “shrouded in secrecy” is the problem in all three of these issues we’re talking about today. As information professionals we need to push for more transparency in our laws. We also need to be working with organizations pushing for more privacy for individuals and more openness for governments (and other powerful organizations). This is one of those times we need to be supporting OpenMedia and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Last word for today comes from Edward Snowden:

The primary lesson from this experience was that “you can’t wait around for someone else to act. I had been looking for leaders, but I realised that leadership is about being the first to act.”

What do you think we should do?

Collection of Statements from Infopros on National Librarian/Archivist Qualifications

Since Daniel Caron needs to be replaced as the head of Library and Archives Canada (the position is currently being filled by Hervé Déry on an interim basis), information professionals with an interest have been putting out some ideas of what we would like to see. There was a Heritage Roundtable on LAC at parliament on May 17 (organized by NDP Heritage Committee members) where, among other things, Myron Groover said:

We need someone who will not shy away from the difficult task of paring down a bloated and self-serving management culture which has treated LAC as a personal fiefdom. And we need someone with a strong personal understanding of information technology as it relates to libraries and archives – this point cannot be emphasised enough.

Since that roundtable meeting the Joint Statement on Qualities of a Successful Librarian and Archivist of Canada was created and has been endorsed by a number of library organizations across the country (that link was to the Canadian Health Libraries Association’s blog post version, but if you prefer it in PDF format, try the Canadian Library Association’s page). This story has been picked up by Gemma Karstens-Smith in the Ottawa Citizen, and David Akin had a good piece about having a librarian instead of someone with an economics degree at the head of LAC..

Accompanying the statement on that CLA page is an open letter (PDF) to the Clerk of the Privy Council giving a bit more context (though not what the Clerk of the Privy Council’s role in appointing a new head of LAC would be). The Canadian Association of Research Libraries also has an open letter to Stephen Harper on the topic of a new LAC head.

It’s excellent to see information organizations across the country trying to be heard on this issue. Hopefully we’ll have some impact.

Daniel Caron’s Departure

The big news today is that Daniel Caron has resigned as the head of Library and Archives Canada. Teresa Smith has a good story in the Ottawa Citizen which includes quotes from IPC’s Myron Groover.

Groover said that since the beginning of Caron’s tenure in 2009, he “wasn’t very interested in working with librarians, archivists or technology specialists, thinking instead that he could just go it alone and figure out this huge modernization push without any sort of grounding in fiscal or professional reality.”

While there’s been a bunch of talk on Twitter about being glad to see the back of the figurehead for gutting LAC and destroying the NADP in the name of mismanaged digitization, it’s also important to realize that for the community of information professionals this doesn’t mean much.

Myron says it better here, but in summary: The shitty policies at LAC are still in place. Their budget has still been slashed. There will be a new head of LAC and it’s important that we make sure that that person is someone who takes the role of a memory institution and its challenges seriously and that requires us to do the work to make our voices heard.

bc library conference 2013 recap

This is not a formal report by any means, but a bit of a recap of some IPC-related activities at this year’s BCLA conference. Feel free to add information in the comments or on Twitter about info-policy related activities you participated in as well.

We start achronologically with the BCLA Annual General Meeting on Saturday morning. The IPC had two resolutions on the table: one condemning the muzzling of government employees meant to provide a “[f]ramework for activism to support employees of Library and Archives Canada, employees of other government libraries, and government scientists” and one commending the life and work of Aaron Swartz. Both resolutions passed but there was a significant moment when our chair was asked what exactly the point of the Aaron Swartz resolution was, what would happen because of it? Our chair responded that this was something to do to show people in the future that yes librarians care about this kind of stuff, we don’t just remain silent, and it was also a decent human thing to do.

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Outside the AGM, IPC partnered up with Steve Anderson from OpenMedia.ca to talk about netroots advocacy and the kinds of things librarians can do to get involved. Steve took us through the activities his organization has been involved in, which involved a healthy amount of meme-ification. Canadians do care about a neutral internet even if they don’t think about it, and Myron pushed the attendees to educate ourselves so we can talk about these issues with our members who would be affected by online spying bills, predatory pricing and undemocratic international agreements (read: everyone). And Barbara Jo May made sure we were optimistic in our abilities to make change in our world.

On Friday night the Hot Topics panel got heated near the end which was probably to be expected with a librarian, an information ethics specialist plus two panel members were current/former board members of Access Copyright. The discussion began with Rowland Lorimer explaining to the audience that “a book is just a license in physical form.” Kevin Williams from Talonbooks talked about the challenges of copyright and digital sales in a changing marketplace and Tara Robertson talked about the ridiculous workflows imposed on her job of making accessible versions of textbooks for Langara’s students. I feel that the panel didn’t quite get into the back and forth the way I’d hoped. I think Micheal Vonn’s views on privacy and whether it is possible to be an ethical stealer of information would have been worthwhile to learn about. It was interesting to see people with a stake in the Access Copyright regime defend their York lawsuit and deny that the supreme court had actually ruled on fair dealing, but that occupied only the very end of the presentation (before Tara suggested continuing the discussion over beer).

Outside of Info Policy specific events, Phil Hall‘s Friday session entitled “Are We Irrelevant Yet?” had a good test for what makes us relevant. Librarianship is about an X and a Y added together. The X is “information transfer/empowering people to use information” or whatever your preferred definition is (mine is “facilitating knowledge creation”) and Y is “anything else.” I appreciated that as a way of deciding what we should be doing in our libraries and in our librarianly lives, really. It gives us a way to say that yes, advocating for laws that help us empower people is part of being a librarian, saying yes LAC employees speaking at conferences and sharing the knowledge of their specific Y contexts is hugely important (and shouldn’t be smothered by terrible codes of conduct). Maybe this is a bit of a stretch, but it was a way for me to look at this information policy stuff we go on about and how to explain its connection to day-to-day work in a library serving the public (which I’m lucky enough to do).

Of course, meeting up with librarian colleagues and talking about the shit (cool, bad or otherwise) going down in the world today was a big part of what these conferences are about. I come out of the conference excited to be doing more work with IPC this year and hope you do too.

Challenging Historical Revisionism

When one sees a headline like “Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to lead review of Canadian history” it’s kind of (read: exceedingly) difficult not to drop an Orwell reference, so let’s consider this sentence fulfilment of that obligation and move along. The gist of the story is that the House of Commons heritage committee is going to review the programs and educational standards related to Canadian history with best practices and opportunities etc.

For those inclined to give the government the benefit of the doubt, there’s some laudable language in the minutes from the meeting:

And that emphasis be placed on Canadians’ access to historical information and education, by studying the following topics:

  • How Hansard can be used as a means of preserving important witness testimony and part of the permanent public record;
  • The tools and methods available for Canadians to access and preserve historical content; and
  • The tools and methods available to Canadians to increase their knowledge of Canadian history.

This actually sounds great. As an information professional I am all for improving access to information about our history, and I think that archivists and librarians would agree. But the benefits of these words only come about if we’re dealing with a government operating in good faith.

And there’s the rub.

This is a government that has been doing its best to keep information from its citizens (muzzled scientists, dismantling the ELA, and of course our LAC colleagues’ high-risk activities) not improve access. This meeting of the heritage committee was held in camera. Why? Who knows? And the information that it has been promoting is focused on a particular view of Canada’s history in relation to military battles. First Nations history is invisible. Topics like post-war Canada are exceedingly broad, but the Battle of Ortona gets its own shout-out. This is a skewed, essentialist view of history, and it makes the blood in historians I know boil. It’s also worth noting that part of this historical review is focused on getting the CBC and National Film Board to discuss their role in preserving important accounts of history they have in their collections. Combine this with the control the government is taking over Canada’s public broadcaster and one wonders how much cost-cutting will have a role in preserving alternative accounts.

Colin Horgan uses the term “coerced coincidence” in his discussion of this parliamentary review. It’s probably not about the government pushing certain ideas into people’s brains, but about limiting the discussion to things that kind of fit with the CPC’s view of Canadianness. The Ottawa Citizen notes in an editorial:

Another reason to do this review now is that the federal government is in the midst of a cost-cutting exercise that’s affecting many of the institutions responsible for teaching Canadians their history. It’s all well and good to invest in and rebrand the Canadian Museum of History, but it’s perhaps more important to maintain the small museums and built heritage that tend to suffer the most from budget cuts.

Which brings us back, as information professionals to the cuts at Library and Archives Canada (here’s a reminder of what those cuts entail from 2012).

Maybe this review of Canadian history will point out that programs like the National Archives Development Program are important ways to give Canadians access to historical content, and those programs will be reinstated. But actually getting a good result out of this review will be impossible if we don’t engage with it and advocate for those tools and methods that all Canadians can use to deal with their history in all its shapes and forms. They say that is their goal, so we as information professionals should hold them to it.

Locke & I: A Must-Read Philosophical Backgrounder on Access Copyright

Granted, I have a bit of a soft spot for fake dialogues with long-dead philosophers, but I still think that Ariel Katz‘s “Locke and I” (in three parts: 1: A Lazy, Ignorant Company of Stationers, To Say No Worse of Them, 2: Scholars are Subjected to the Power of These Dull Wretches, 3: The Company of Stationers Minding Nothing But What Makes for Their Monopoly) is something you should read if you’re interested in the Access Copyright and why its business model includes suing educational institutions. It’s funny, conversationally-written and provides a lot of broader historical legal context to the mess (including a bunch of things we’ve linked to here on the blog and more). Definitely check it out.

Access Copyright versus York – Week in Review

We’ve had a week of responses to the Access Copyright (AC) lawsuit against York University, and predictably they haven’t been very supportive of AC’s decision to defend what the Canadian Federation of Students calls “obsolete licensing agreements” and “archaic models.” Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) President Thomas Hickerson said in CARL’s statement,

Access Copyright’s action seems to question rather clear copyright law and jurisprudence, and feels very much like an attempt to intimidate universities into buying their blanket licence.

But why would AC need to be intimidating institutions into using its services? A big answer to that question comes from the Supreme Court’s 2012 decisions supporting Fair Dealing for education. It was these rulings that undermined AC’s business model by supporting a more open approach to copyright in educational matters. In those rulings, as Howard Knopf pointed out at the time:

  • Collectives cannot assume that they will be entitled to an additional “layer” of remunerated rights every time there is a new method of delivery. Technological neutrality matters.
  • The Court said what it meant and meant what is said in CCH v. LSUC in 2004 and will move forward from there – not be pushed backwards. Users have rights that must be given a “large and liberal interpretation”. Copyright doesn’t exist solely for collectives.
  • Educators are in a “symbiotic” relationship with students and the Copyright Act serves the goal of education, which includes access to essential material. “Instruction and research/private study are, in the school context, tautological.”

There’s much more at that link highlighting the kinds of things that in this lawsuit Access Copyright seems to be pretending the court did not say.

Last summer Michael Geist also took a closer look at what those Supreme Court cases meant:

Led by Justice Abella, the court has reaffirmed that fair dealing is a user’s right that must be interpreted in a broad and liberal manner. In fact, the court provides further guidance on interpreting fair dealing with an emphasis on the need for a flexible, technology-neutral approach. In reading the decisions in the Access Copyright and song previews cases, it is hard to imagine a bigger victory for education, Internet users, and innovative companies.

That victory for Fair Dealing and education in general was last year though, and maybe we’ve seen a huge amount of terrible activity at York University since then to justify lawsuits? Nope. As AC’s statement says, its “legal actions signal to institutions that we continue to strongly disagree with their interpretation of the law.” This is not a case of specific infringement, but a policy disagreement that is leading AC to spend the money it makes from its members litigating educational institutions.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) issued a letter to Access Copyright noting that AC’s lawsuit is not in the service of education:

As we have explained, the availability of new contractual models (specifically site licenses directly between content providers and academic institutions), modes of scholarly communication (Open Access publishing), and user rights (the CCH and Alberta decisions and Bill C-11) has had a profound impact on the utility of Access’s services in the post-secondary education sector. It is now clear that Access Copyright’s only plan is to try to hang on to the past. This serves no one well.

And that’s really the problem with this whole thing. Suing people/educational institutions to protect a business model is not a way to help students and scholars. In CARL’s statement Brent Roe said,

[Fair dealing] unlocks knowledge for generations of students, who are the future of innovative research. Education as fair dealing must be protected against predatory lawsuits.

That is a position that we totally support.

More Access Copyright v. York University Reading Material

Since we posted about it last night, Michael Geist has written specifically about this new lawsuit by Access Copyright against York University, and Howard Knopf has a post about the tariffs mentioned in the press release has posted a copy of the Statement of Claim in the lawsuit.

The Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians has released a short statement, which also linked to the Canadian Association of University Teachers’ analysis of Access Copyright’s bad deal for education.

Also, it’s probably worth noting that BCLA wrote a letter to BC College and University presidents (PDF) in 2012 about Access Copyright, and made a resolution on the matter (PDF) too.

Access Copyright Sues York University

If you care about copyright enforcement in Canada you probably noticed a little news piece today. Access Copyright is suing York University for not signing onto its agreement. Or, in their words “York’s purported fair dealing guidelines authorize and encourage copying that is not supported by the law, and that there is no justification for the University to operate outside the interim tariff.” You can check out York’s fair dealing guidelines on their website.

To really get into the meat of this would require someone with more knowledge of the documents than me, but I just want to highlight the language used. As well as saying this is “a last resort” AC’s press release includes the following sentences:

But for those institutions that have walked away from our shared interests of reading, writing and learning, there are ramifications. … On behalf of writers and publishers, as well as those who need the materials they produce, Access Copyright is taking a stand.

Maybe that kind of rhetoric is normal in press releases, but it sounds almost parodic ominous supervillainy to me. Also the funding sources for this lawsuit aren’t lost on information professionals:

If you don’t know why a university would not join up with Access Copyright, check out this profile that talks about UBC’s approach (we linked to it a little while ago).

If you want some more detail Michael Geist has been writing about this issue for quite some time, looking at such things as the Supreme Court’s thoughts on how to assess fair dealing in Canada, why the Access Copyright model provides little value, and how the Supreme Court’s decision eviscerated Access Copyright’s business model.

We’ll try to keep you informed as this issue progresses.