Baby steps for orphan works

So it looks like we might get an orphan works bill after all. Finally.

I’ve been interested in the orphan works problem since my first year of grad school, when I gave a presentation about it in my copyright class. This was right around the last time it looked like we might get an Orphan Works bill, and I remember checking the Copyright Office website every week to make sure I hadn’t missed anything good. Three years later, still nothing. It has been a real lesson for me in the excruciatingly slow pace of lawmaking.

First there was the recognition that orphan works were a problem that was only going to get worse. That happened when? Shortly after the Sonny Bono Let’s Extend Copyright Terms Again Because Almost Infinity Isn’t Long Enough Act in 1998? Earlier? Then Eric Eldred filed his complaint in 1999, and the Eldred v. Ashcroft verdict was finally handed down in 2002. Three years passed before the Copyright Office’s Notice of Inquiry in 2005. Then the Orphan Works Act of 2006 went nowhere. Now it’s 2008, and the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property held a hearing.

Here’s hoping something comes of it. Photographers and illustrators have been objecting strongly to all orphan works legislation, and I think they have some legitimate concerns about the ease with which their works can be separated from their names, but that doesn’t mean a reasonable orphan works bill wouldn’t have a tremendous public benefit overall. It’s long overdue.

[Update: I’ve written a follow up to this post, here]

Library Camp Ann Arbor, 2008

I spent yesterday afternoon at the Ann Arbor District Library, attending Library Camp. I joined the group discussing how to sell Web 2.0 to our colleagues, administrators, and patrons. Overall, I was pretty proud of how the group managed not to devolve into a whine fest about how hard it is to get libraries and librarians to experiment with new technologies, though there were a few requisite moans and groans. A lot of folks in the room had already had some successes introducing 2.0 technologies, and they shared their strategies, which tended to fall into one of two camps:

  1. Build first, explain later: People found that it was very hard to sell anyone on a 2.0 experiment when all they could do was try and describe it. “Well, Twitter is like microblogging… Well microblogging is like blogging, but smaller… Well, blogging is like when people post about different stuff, like news and stuff, and it shows up chronologically on the webpage…” etc. If they actually created a few Flickr sets, or set up a blog, it was much easier to demonstrate the utility of such a thing, and they were able to generate buy-in from the administration and the users.
  2. Talk about the ends, not the means: In trying to explain Web 2.0 technologies to upper level administration, Dave Carter of the University of Michigan focused on their ability to help us better connect with our users, rather than on the details of how they work or what they are. By explaining the end goal – building a relationship with users, encouraging interaction, and improving services – he was able to sell the principle of 2.0 without getting bogged down by the minutiae of various sites and and technologies. U of M ended up offering a whole summer series on Library 2.0, and blogs, wikis, and Facebook have been adopted by librarians all over campus.

After the breakout sessions we had a show and tell, where several people got up and demonstrated a cool new thing they’re doing in their library. They included

We also saw a library book blog, but apparently I didn’t write down the URL or the name. I was especially impressed by all the different embedded media options from DALNET (that’s Detroit Area Library Network, I think). They’re doing stuff like embedding movie previews from YouTube in the catalog, so that if a patron is looking at a record for Spiderman 2, she could actually watch the preview right there on the page. And they’re doing it all with MARC! Very cool.

It was nice to meet librarians from all over the Midwest, and also to be reminded of some of the stuff I’ve been meaning to experiment with but just haven’t gotten around to. When I learned that there was no Wikipedia entry for the AADL, I went home and created one, my first ever new Wikipedia article (it’s still a stub – go edit it!). I also decided to take my Twittering to the next level, to see if I can finally understand what the fuss is about. If you’re interested, follow me at

SXSW By the numbers

Here’s a quick round-up of how I spent the four days of my first SXSWi

  • Sessions attended: 15
  • Parties attended: 3
  • Business cards collected: 16 (it seemed like more – I probably lost some)
  • Moo cards collected: 5
  • iPhone sightings: I lost count
  • Minutes spent waiting in line for the bathroom: 0 (the best part of attending a heavily male-dominated conference)
  • Most professionally relevant panel: Textbooks of the Future: Free and Collaborative
  • Most endearing panel: The I Can Has Cheezburger guys
  • All around favorite session: Kathy Sierra’s 20 Ways to Woo Users

It was an exhausting, exciting, inspiring, overwhelming experience. I can’t wait to come back next year.

SXSW Day 4: Thick as Thieves: When Your Fans Break the Law

This was supposed to be a panel about piracy, and how to handle it when fans stop paying for your stuff and start filesharing. Instead, the panelists talked a lot about copyright and fair use, and how to draw the line when fans make potentially transformative, possibly infringing new works. It probably had to go that way, given that there were two copyright lawyers on the panel: Jason Shultz from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Dean Marks, the Senior Vice President for Intellectual Property at Warner Brothers.

I was surprised to learn that Warner Brothers has (or claims to have) a very liberal policy when it comes to no-budget and student filmmakers requesting licenses to use clips; while WB can’t legally grant free permissions because of agreements with unions and guilds, they do issue “no objection” letters guaranteeing that the student can use the clip without fear of a lawsuit. I can’t wait to tell my Communications and Art & Design faculty.

There were also two filmmakers on the panel, and I was particularly charmed by M dot Strange, an independent, pro-piracy animator. His philosophy is, “You should be happy if anybody wants to watch your movie in any way, and you should try to figure out how to make money from it after.” He suggests making the DVD value-added – his offers 8 alternate soundtracks to the film, along with very cool cover art – in order to encourage your fans to buy your movie after they’ve already watched it for free online. He also argues that “If you don’t have a P&A [Prints and Advertising] budget, piracy is your promotion.” The torrent seeders essentially worked on dot Strange’s behalf, not only providing free distribution, but also promoting the film on their websites and creating subtitled versions in several languages, instantly expanding his potential audience. He’s my new poster child for the power of unauthorized distribution.

SXSW Day 2: Tools for Enchantment: 20 Ways to Woo Users

At the heart of Kathy Sierra’s entertaining and enlightening talk was the question “How do we help our users really kick ass?” Her focus, on web and software development, doesn’t directly apply to libraries, but the question resonated with me, and probably all the other librarians in the room. As individuals, especially in face to face interactions, I think librarians do a great job helping our users kick ass. But the tools we offer them – the terrible catalogs, the obscure controlled vocabulary, the clunky metasearches – are not helping our users kick ass. More often, the tools are kicking the asses of our users. I know a lot of work is going into improving those tools, at Michigan and elsewhere, and there are already signs of progress, but as we move forward it couldn’t hurt to keep not just navigability and accessibility in mind, but also good old-fashioned ass-kicking.

The follow-up question, “What do we help our users kick ass at?” was challenging for me, because my copyright specialist job involves a lot of different things, and I’m still trying to figure out the best way to do them all. Do I help my users kick ass at negotiating with publishers? Maybe, but it’s not what I focus on. Do I help them kick ass at understanding copyright? Maybe, but “understanding” is not a particularly active or ass-kicking verb. Do I help them kick ass at advocating for their rights, as creators and as users? I hope so. Enough blogobrainstorming, back to wooing users. More on this in the future.

A lot of the material in the talk was stuff that Sierra has covered before, but most of it was new to me. She spent some time discussing stress, and how we should help our users manage stress and do our very best not to create more of it. One way to do that is to give people patterns and shortcuts that will help them do things faster. “Best practices” are not motivating; shortcuts are.

She also brought Gary Vaynerchuk up on stage, as an exemplar of someone who does all 20 user-wooing things. He seemed very charismatic, and his advice to novice wine drinkers sounded good to me: 1) Try different stuff (“Stop drinking Yellow Tail people!”), and 2) Respect your own palate.