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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Wait! Don’t digitize and discard!

Some libraries, library organizations, and library managements believe they can “manage” their collections better by first digitizing historic collections of books and other paper and ink information sources and then weeding their collections of these materials. Such projects will reduce the number of copies held in the aggregate by all libraries (Lavoie, Schonfeld, Schottlaender, Yano). One problem that these projects often overlook is the subtle (and not so subtle) differences between the legal standing of paper and digital objects with regard to access and use. Too often, creators of digital objects attempt to impose copyright restrictions on the digital objects even if the originals were in the public domain. Additionally, digital objects are often encumbered with licenses and technological restrictions that limit how they can be used and who can use them. The digital objects are often just not as accessible or as usable as the original print. How bad would it be if we threw away our print collections in favor of digital collections that are less accessible and less usable?

Randal C. Picker, who is Leffmann Professor of Commercial Law and Senior Fellow at the The Computation Institute of the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory University of Chicago Law School, has written a paper and created a presentation on just this issue.

In the paper, he considers how legal issues affect digitization projects such as The Internet Archive, JSTOR, Google Book Search, HathiTrust, and THOMAS.

His take-aways from the presentation are:

  1. Access rights and use rights are different animals and operate in different legal settings.
  2. Even though the public domain is coming online, the financing models for the projects will result in efforts to restrict use ina variety of ways.
  3. Those efforts will be situated at the intersection of technology controls, contract, terms of use, copyright and the CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act).
  4. Perhaps a truly public public domain, something like the DPLA perhaps, is required to avoid the path of non-copyright control over the public domain.

Hat Tip: ARL Policy Notes.


Lavoie, Brian F., Constance Malpas, and J.D. Shipengrover. 2012. Print Management at “Mega-scale”: a Regional Perspective on Print Book Collections in North America. Dublin, OH: OCLC Research. http://www.oclc.org/research/publications/library/2012/2012-05.pdf (Accessed July 19, 2012).

Schonfeld, Roger C., and Ross Housewright. 2009. 28 What to Withdraw: Print Collections Management in the Wake of Digitization. Ithaka S+R. http://www.sr.ithaka.org/research-publications/what-withdraw-print-collections-management-wake-digitization.

Schottlaender, Brian E.C. et al. 2004. 82 Collection Management Strategies In A Digital Environment, A Project Of The Collection Management Initiative Of The University Of California Libraries, Final Report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. University of California, Office of the President, Office of Systemwide Library Planning. http://www.ucop.edu/cmi/finalreport/index.html.

Yano, Candace Arai, Z.J. Max Shen, and Stephen Chan. 2008. Optimizing the Number of Copies for Print Preservation of Research Journals. Berkeley, CA: University of California Berkeley, Industrial Engineering & Operations Research. http://www.ieor.berkeley.edu/~shen/webpapers/V.8.pdf.

DMCA overkill: NASA video of Mars removed from YouTube

Hours after NASA’s successful landing on Mars of its Mars rover, one of NASA’s official clips from the mission was pulled from YouTube, and replaced with a notice from the video site indicating that the “video contains content from Scripps Local News, who has blocked it on copyright grounds.”

The video was replaced and Scripps apologized, but it is an example of how the scale are tipped in favor of the “content industry” and even obvious, public-domain content gets caught in the privatization of information trap. EFF has the background on the technology and how it works:

  • Mars Landing Videos, and Other Casualties of the Robot Wars, by Parker Higgins, Electronic Frontier Foundation (Aug 8, 2012).

    [T]he problem likely lies not with the DMCA itself, but with the additional (and voluntary) automated Content ID system YouTube has developed. Content ID uses digital fingerprinting technology to identify duplicate audio and video on YouTube and, depending on the “business rules” configuration of the designated rightsholder, blocks or places ads next to videos. Unfortunately, the robots behind that copyright enforcement machine have the tendency to shoot first and ask questions later, even when it ends up silencing real — human — speech.

Cryptome shut down over Microsoft DMCA takedown notice

The site [w:Cryptome] has been shut down over a [w:Digital Millennium Copyright Act] (DMCA) notice from Microsoft alleging copyright infringement after Cryptome published a 22-page Microsoft document outlining how the company stores private user data in its web-connected servers. The document also explains how government agencies can access that personal data. John Young has put up an alternative website while the original domain is locked by Network Solutions. Wired news blog “Threat Level” and ReadWriteWeb have more context.

Feel free to download the document entitled “Microsoft® Online Services Global Criminal Compliance Handbook” (.pdf).

Good thing libraries have collected Cryptome archives on CDROM and have harvested the site as well!

[Thanks BoingBoing!]

McCain and Lessig on Fair Use

Recently John McCain was in the news for advocating Fair Use for his campaign videos on YouTube (Update: McCain protests YouTube’s removal of his campaign videos, Heather Havenstein, Computerworld, October 15, 2008). It is an interesting story and now Lawrence Lessig puts it all in perspective for us:

While the issue at hand deals with political speech, the same problems and issues apply to government information.

Lessig says that the “explosion in citizen-generated political speech has been met with a troubling response: the increasing use of copyright laws as tools for censorship.” His solution is to change the copyright law:

It would be far better if copyright law were narrowed to those contexts in which it serves its essential creative function — encouraging innovation and ensuring that artists get paid for their work — and left alone the battles of what criticisms candidates for office, and their supporters, are allowed to make.

While a lot of government information is free of copyright, or is supposed to be, strict interpretation and aggressive use of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act has led to restrictions on access to government information. Perhaps the most visible example is in Google Books, which blocks full text access to its scans of government publications because they “might” be covered by copyright. (See, for example, Oversight of U.S. Government Intelligence Functions: Hearings Before the Committee on Government Operations, United States Senate, Ninety-fourth Congress, Second Session, Published by U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1976.)

But copyright is only part of the problem that limits access to what should be free, open, re-usable, government information. Even if we get reasonable changes to the Copyright law, we will need more. Governments will have want to make their content freely usable. They will have to apply aggressive open-access policies to their own content. This will mean avoiding technological locks (DRM), eschewing contractual and licensing restrictions on content, actively promoting and using open formats for digital materials, and actively labeling content as open and freely usable and re-usable.

Air Force lawyers send DMCA notice to YouTube

Air Force lawyers have issued a DMCA take-down notice to YouTube (here’s the PDF of the DMCA notice), demanding the removal of a publicly available video promoting its Cyber Command project. There’s only one problem with that: material produced by federal agencies is by law in the public domain and not copyrighted. And the Air Force website has a privacy policy that states, “Information presented on the Air Force Recruiting website is considered public information and may be distributed or copied.”

It’s cyber war! Lawyers representing the Air Force’s elite electronic warriors have sent YouTube a DMCA takedown notice demanding the removal of the 30-second spot the Air Force created to promote its nascent Cyber Command. We’d uploaded the video to share with THREAT LEVEL readers.