Part two of my amazing trip to Malaysia and Singapore culminated in a visit to the Singapore National Library, where I gave a presentation to librarians from the National Library Board and the Singapore Library Association.
It was yet another version of my “Introducing Creative Commons: Why you should love it as much as I do” spiel. With this one, I aimed for a blend of copyright basics, the big picture on the broken copyright system and how that affects libraries, and the nuts and bolts of Creative Commons and how it can help us do our jobs. As usual, the slides barely scratch the surface of what I said, and as usual, they’re up on Slideshare anyway. The timing of my visit was perfect: CC International announced the launch of new licenses ported to Singaporean law the day before I arrived.
Talking about copyright in Singapore was a fun challenge. As I heard over and over from the Singaporean friends I was visiting and from the librarians I met, laws and policies in Singapore tend to be commerce friendly and control oriented. Singaporean copyright policies are no exception. While the law itself includes “fair dealing” provisions with wording similar to American “fair use”, most of the time you only hear admonitions against piracy, and I got the sense that any unauthorized use is considered a violation of the law. There were signs in the libraries, such as the one below, warning patrons that if they tried to rip CDs from the library collection on their personal laptops they would be turned over to the police.
In such an environment, it can be hard to imagine copyright holders who would choose to loosen their grip on the works they control, but that’s exactly what Creative Commons is all about. As a result, attendees had a lot of questions.
[An aside: My favorite question wasn’t really about Creative Commons at all. A librarian who handles the purchasing of electronic subscriptions asked if it would be possible to get vendors to translate their license agreements into human readable language. My answer was “probably not,” because it benefits vendors when libraries don’t understand the agreements we sign, but it got me thinking about all the other kinds of laws that would benefit from a human readable translation. Tax law. Immigration law. Contract law. All of them, really. Carl Malamud is doing great work in expanding public access to law and legal documents; the next logical step would be to translate it all into a language the public can understand.]
There were several variations on “If you use Creative Commons licenses, how do you get paid?” One person asked, “Why would you ever use the Attribution license if there is the chance someone might pay you to use your work?” Which is a perfectly reasonable question, especially if you’ve been trained to think that copyright and commerce always go together. It also challenged me to articulate on the fly some of the reasoning behind participating in the Commons that I’ve only ever expressed in writing. I don’t know if I convinced her.
The audience seemed more excited about the possibility of using the CC-licensed work that’s already out there. The idea that there are quality resources they could use without being branded a pirate was a revelation for these law-abiding librarians. I was glad I’d added a new slide to the presentation that explains how to comply with a license when using CC-licensed work. A few people commented on it afterwards, and I’ll definitely use it again.
Singaporean librarian and new friend Ivan Chew arranged the visit, and he did several thoughtful blog posts about issues raised at the talk: 1, 2, and 3. A big thank you goes out to Ivan for setting everything up; my visit to the National Library was one of the best parts of a consistently amazing trip, and I’m so glad I had the opportunity. Thanks, Ivan!