Library Policy Hacks Continue to Alienate Author Allies, While Sucking Up to Silicon Valley

UK authors launch nationwide protests to save libraries. When was the last time Silicon Valley billionaires and media pirates marched to prevent library closures? Yet public policy arms of library organizations are now reliably allied against authors, while standing with pirates and silicon valley on copyright matters.

You have to wonder why it is that library public policy hacks have decided to make enemies of authors and creators by constantly taking the side of those who exploit authors works without permission or compensation. I’m pretty sure your average rank and file librarian understands that books don’t magically appear on the shelves, that protections afforded authors under copyright law allow them to produce the books that fill the library shelves. And I’m sure some librarians realize that unlike most western democracies our libraries don’t have to pay lending fees to authors. American authors have been unusually generous in this regard to libraries.

But the library political hacks in DC have managed to make authors view librarians and libraries as reliable enemies.

I count at least a dozen times in which the ALA and other library policy organizations have filed amicus briefs AGAINST authors and other creators and ON BEHALF of those that violate their rights.

I first became aware of this when I discovered that ALA filed an amicus brief in support of the P2P file sharing services Grokster and Morpheus back in 2004. It struck me as odd. Isn’t this a stupid position for libraries to take? If it’s “fair use” when Grokster and Morpheus “share” an entire songwriter’s oeuvre without permission or compensation, why not the same thing for authors? Why not every book ever written? And then why the fuck go to a library if you can just download whatever books you want from The Pirate Bay? Think of how many state governors and mayors would love to eliminate public library expenses from their budgets? Same with the Digital Public Library of America, however well-intentioned. While some small libraries might benefit from digital access to interesting and rare works, isn’t it more likely that folks would just sit at home and enjoy digital access to those works? Why go to the library? I worry that the unintended consequences of this is it undermine the local justification for mid size and small city libraries. Sure most wealthy colleges and coastal cities will continue to have beautiful and well supported libraries. But I wonder what will happen to the little neighborhood branch of the City of Richmond Public Library next to my house? I adore this place. I feel like I raised two children here. But I doubt anyone at the ALA really gives a shit about this place or the kind librarians who work there. They’ve completely lost the thread.

When was the last time that anyone from the ALA leadership or a C-suite executive from Silicon Valley went out and marched to save a public library? I googled it but didn’t see anything. Yet it seems like every week we see news reports of authors out marching or signing books trying to save a library. Sure Google has given money to the ALA. But for what? Amicus briefs that have nothing to do with the interests of libraries? Amicus briefs that reliably defend the agendas of rapacious billionaires in Silicon Valley? And all this does is further alienate authors from libraries. Is this really the long term strategy that libraries wish to pursue? You think Google or Silicon Valley is gonna give a shit about your libraries once they accomplish whatever it is they are trying to accomplish by ingesting every cultural work ever produced?



ALA was nominated for a Tony for Most Dramatic and Unrelated Use of an Amicus Brief.  They lost to PETA’s “Monkey Selfie Case”.

The BMG vs Cox Media case is a perfect example. Silicon Valley, ALA and the Library Copyright Alliance are all lined up on the sideof BIG CABLE against the rights of creators. What the fuck does this even have to do with the real challenges faced by average rank and file librarians? The Cox case is mostly about fraudulent behavior by a big cable company.  Cox pretended  to follow the DMCA provisions and then got caught. Unless the ALA thinks that libraries should be able to engage in the same misleading and fraudulent practices I really don’t get it. The ALA in the brief even admits that they don’t really have a dog in the fight and are simply weighing in on a hypothetical (and unlikely) outcome. But the ALA action does have the effect of providing cover to Cox Communications and it complicates the songwriters case. This is the modus operandi in almost every one of these cases. It certain baffles songwriters that libraries would side with a lying cheating corporate scofflaw in this case.

So why do librarians allow their public policy advocates to squander the goodwill authors and creators once felt for libraries?  Are librarians just unaware?   It’s likely.  Do rank and file librarians get consulted on these issues?  Does the ALA inform their members when they take these actions?  I doubt it.  So do authors and creators have to start picketing in front of libraries? I’m serious. Because it’s gotten to the point that every fucking time we try to enforce our rights and our adversaries are the corporate behemoths of Silicon Valley the librarians send their public policy lawyers to fight us. Yeah, Vive la corporate revolution!  That doesn’t seem like the kind of thing librarians want done in their name.
And if we’re gonna start picketing libraries I’d suggest we start with the University of Virginia Library. Under the leadership of their new “Director of Information Policy” Brandon Butler, the Library of Jefferson has lately been on the front lines of the copyright wars. On the front lines AGAINST authors and creators.  This has generated great enmity between authors and the UVA Library.    Butler cheered on the (possibly illegal) firing of the Register of Copyrights apparently because she was arguing FOR enforcement of copyright protections that are the law of the land. Why would the Director of Information Policy UVA library defend something like this?  Butler is also generally quite combative and hostile in his public statements towards those who defend the rights of authors.  For confirmation ask any mildly pro-copyright wonk that has a twitter account about Butler

Butler like so many other “copyleft” academics likes to dress his up his hostility to authors in pseudo-progressive terms. And some might be forgiven for thinking he is actually be a thoughtful intellectual property skeptic.   But he still can’t seem to stifle his impulse to gloat whenever every authors and creators suffer a setback in the courts.


I’m not sure why a “progressive” librarian (or simply an ordinary compassionate human being) would be even mildly cheered by the fact that Sirius a multi-billion dollar publicly traded company got away with not paying millions of dollars of royalties to pre-1972 performers because of a very technical loophole.  Butler just seems to like this kind of stuff. Again just look at his twitter feed.  It makes me wonder if Butler is a secretly frustrated artist like the Saturday Night Live’s version of Albert Goldman. If you will,  the imaginary trombone player fired by John Lennon who now can’t help exhibiting schadenfreude whenever something bad happens to authors, musicians, photographers and filmmakers.

Butler is free to represent the UVA library as he sees fit. They apparently hired him to do a job, (even if he appears to still live in DC). And he’s certainly busy! Firing off snarky tweets all day long to anyone who exhibits a bit of sympathy to copyright holders. I would never suggest anyone be fired for the expression of their opinions, but If I were running the UVA library I might ask him to tone down the boorish use of the phrase “We Jeffersonians.” It makes UVA seem like a joke. I’d also consider whether its good form to lambast the fired former US register of copyrights from what appears to be an official UVA blog. Pretty sure it was Jefferson who said “the only thing worse than being a sore loser is being a poor winner.” Or maybe not.

Rank and file librarians should pay attention to what their out-of-touch policy hacks like Brandon Butler and the ALA are doing on their behalf. Libraries are first in line for budget cuts everywhere. Libraries need all the support you can get. Why on earth alienate authors and other creators? We should be your natural allies. But library policy hacks are making it very hard for us.

What gives with the very real and well documented legal hostility? What did we ever do to you?



One thought on “Library Policy Hacks Continue to Alienate Author Allies, While Sucking Up to Silicon Valley

  1. Indeed. We underscored many of these same points in our recent submission to the House Judiciary Committee: in which we cited a letter from Butler: “Copyright law strikes an important balance between the short-term, private interests of authors and intermediaries, and the long-term interests of the public, including succeeding generations of authors and intermediaries, whose works build on the edifice of existing work. Libraries are not on one side of that balance; they are at the fulcrum, promoting broad access by investing heavily in copyrighted works, and educating patrons about authors’ and users’ rights…. We reject [a] false dichotomy between copyright and the public interest.”

    And commented as follows:

    But in the course of one short passage, the authors embrace the false dichotomy that they simultaneously claim to reject by contrasting the “short-term private interests of authors” with the “long-term interests of the public.” Such a balancing equation by definition presupposes a conflict. We agree with Butler, et al. that copyright protection advances the public interest, and that discussions of access versus protection mask a much more complex relationship. Sadly, however, the authors disagree with themselves, and in one short and internally inconsistent paragraph help to illustrate the importance of an autonomous Copyright Office, capable of more clearly elucidating the complementary roles of libraries and copyright holders.

Comments are closed.