Like campuses across the country, Howard University in Washington, D.C., shut down last March when COVID-19 hit. Most of its nearly 6,000 undergraduate students have been remote learning ever since.
Without access to the physical library, demand for e-books has increased. The university recently joined the Open Libraries program to expand the digital materials that students can borrow. Through the program, users can check out a digital version of a book the library owns using controlled digital lending (CDL).
Amy Phillips, head of technical services for Howard University Libraries, learned about the opportunity last fall through the Washington Research Library Consortium. Howard is one of nine D.C.-area libraries in the nonprofit consortium, which recently collaborated with the Internet Archive to do an overlap analysis of its shared collection. When the digital materials became available to use for free through the consortia, Howard decided to join, too.
After Alisha Strother, metadata librarian, ran an analysis of books in the Howard collection by International Standard Book Number (ISBN), it was discovered that more than 14,000 books matched a copy that the Internet Archive had acquired and digitized. Howard decided to join the Open Libraries program in January. This means that students can now check out these Howard books from across the country as they engage in online instruction.
“I see this as being an important resource for students to be able to access materials from anywhere,” Phillips said. “And I think it will have value and be heavily utilized even when we are back on campus.”
Howard is one of nearly 100 historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) in the United States. One of Howard’s most important entities is the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, which is recognized as one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive repositories for the documentation of the history and cultural of people of African descent in Africa, the Americas and other parts of the world. Portions of its materials are also now available for digital borrowing through the Open Libraries program. The collection will now have greater exposure since it had previously only been accessible onsite for researchers who scheduled appointments.
“This opens up a premier collection to public usage. From a scholarly and cultural point of view, this material is very much in demand,” Phillips said. “Looking forward, we think it will get a lot of traffic.”
COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people of color, prompting Howard to be cautious and extending online learning into the spring semester for most all students, Phillips said. The university is doing all it can to connect students with resources and its libraries have been investing more in digital items. But budgets are limited and licensing agreements curb the library’s ability to broadly lend e-books.
“The Internet Archive has been an important way to open up more library materials to students,” said Phillips, adding that it’s new and just beginning to be promoted to students and faculty. “We’re excited and we know this will have a positive impact on student success and scholarship.”
Academics, legal experts, and authors explained the thoughtful reasoning and compelling need for libraries to engage in Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) at a webinar hosted by the Internet Archive and Library Futures on February 11. A recording of the session is now available.
The panel dispelled myths about CDL, the digital lending model in which a library lends a digital version of a print book it owns. Emphasizing the limited and controlled aspect of the practice, the speakers said CDL allows libraries to fulfill their mission of serving the public in the digital age. The global pandemic only underscores the importance of providing flexibility in how people can access information.
Isn’t CDL digital piracy? No, CDL is not like Napster, said Kyle K. Courtney, copyright advisor at Harvard University, referring to the music file-sharing service. Twenty years ago, the actions of Napster were ruled illegal because it made unlimited reproductions of MP3 music to anyone, anywhere.
“CDL uses technology to replicate a library’s right to loan works in a digital format—one user at a time,” Courntey said. Libraries are using rights they already have, leveraging the same technology as publishers to make sure that the books are controlled when they’re loaned—not duplicated, copied or redistributed.
“Libraries are not pirates. There is a vast difference between the Napster mission and the library mission,” Courtney said. “We can loan books to patrons. Only now we’re harnessing that right in the digital space.”
In laying out the rationale behind CDL, Courtney described the “superpower” granted to libraries by Congress through copyright law to serve the public. The “fair use” section of the law allows libraries to responsibly lend materials, and experts say logically includes both print and digital works.
The idea of “fair use” has been around as long as there has been copyright, and it applies to new technologies, said Michelle Wu, attorney and law librarian at the webinar. The Internet Archive did not invent CDL. Wu is the visionary behind CDL, developing the concept in 2002 as a way to protect a library’s print collection from natural disaster—an imperative she faced in rebuilding a library destroyed by flooding.
Just as libraries lend out entire books, fair use allows the scanning of whole books, said panelist Sandra Aya Enimil, copyright librarian and contract specialist at Yale University. The law makes no mention of the amount of material that can be made available under “fair use,” so for libraries to fulfill their purpose they can make complete books—whether in print or digital—available to patrons, she said.
It’s a myth that librarians need author and publisher permission for CDL, explained Jill Hurst-Wahl, copyright scholar and professor emerita in Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies. “Authors and publisher control ends at the time a book is published, then fair use begins,” she said. “Once a work is legally acquired by you, by a library, the copyright owners’ rights are exhausted.”
Library lending is viewed as fair use, in part, because it is focused on socially beneficial, non-commercial outcomes, like literacy, said Hurst-Wahl. Also, libraries loan physical books without concern about the market effect—so the same rules apply if a digital version of the book is substituted.
CDL does not harm authors or publisher sales, the panelists emphasized. Indeed, it can provide welcome exposure.
“The reality is that CDL can help authors by enhancing discoverability, availability and accessibility of their works,” said Brianna Schofield, executive director of Authors Alliance, speaking at the event. “It helps authors to spread their ideas, and it helps authors to build their audiences.”
Many of the books that are circulated by CDL are rare, out-of-print books that would otherwise be unavailable. This source material can be useful for writers as they develop their creative works.
“Digital and physical libraries contribute to a healthy publishing ecosystem and increase sales and engagement for creative works,” said Jennie Rose Halpin, executive director of Library Futures, a newly formed nonprofit coalition advocating for libraries to operate in the digital space. Research shows that leveraged digitization increases sales of physical additions by about 34% and increases the likelihood of any sale by 92%, particularly for less popular and out-of-print works.
Because digitized versions can be made more readily available, CDL can extend access to library collections to people with print disabilities or mobility issues, the panelists noted. CDL also allows libraries to preserve material in safe, digital formats with the best interest of the public—not profits—at the center of its work.
“People love books and will buy if they’re able. But we have to remember that paper books and even some ebooks do not serve the needs of all readers,” said Andrea Mills, digitization program manager at the Internet Archive and lead on the Archive’s accessibility efforts. “Accessibility is a human right that must be vigilantly protected.”
For anyone interested in learning more about how to get involved with CDL, the Internet Archive now has 2 million books available to borrow for free, and an active program for libraries that want to make their collections available through CDL.
“The CDL community of practice is thriving,” said Chris Freeland, director of Open Libraries at the Internet Archive. “We are in a pandemic. Libraries are closed. Schools are closed. CDL just makes sense and solves problems of access.”
Lillian Michelson was celebrated as a “force of nature” librarian devoted to helping Hollywood filmmakers get the details right at an event on January 27 to unveil a new online home at the Internet Archive for her extensive collection of books, photos, scrapbooks and clippings.
The Michelson Cinema Research Library was opened with an animated version of the research icon cutting a virtual ribbon to an audience of more than 300 people watching online. The public got a first glimpse of 1,300 books that are now digitally available—part of a million items in the rich collection that Michelson donated to the Internet Archive in December.
“Now, for the first time, anyone, anywhere on the planet can go roam into the halls of Lillian’s research library,” said Thomas Walsh, a production designer and former president of the Art Directors Guild, speaking on a panel at the event. “It’s a really unique, eclectic collection. The books go back to the 1700s. Nothing she had is in print anymore. It’s an extraordinary range of material.”
Walsh looked for nearly eight years to find a place to house the content, which art directors and others relied on for creating accurate visual backstories to movies. Whether it was finding blueprints of a nuclear submarine or photos of the interior of a 1950s police station, Michelson was respected for being tenacious in pursuit of answers to inform movie productions. In Michelson’s decades of research, she worked on movies such as Rosemary’s Baby, Scarface, Fiddler on the Roof, Full Metal Jacket, The Graduate, and The Birds.
Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian and founder of the Internet Archive, said he was amazed when he opened up the first boxes from the Michelson Library and saw the variety and extent of raw materials. Making an internet equivalent of the library will be a huge challenge, but one that also is a great opportunity.
“It’s not just a hodge-podge of used books. It is a complete collection that served a community. It comes with a focus,” Kahle said of the Michelson Cinema Research Library that filled some 1600 boxes on 45 pallets. “The Internet Archive is starting to receive whole libraries. The idea of bringing those online is not just bringing those books and materials online. It’s bringing a community online.”
Daniel Raim, Academy Award-nominated director and panelist at the event, described Michelson as a storyteller whose work was central to helping create a movie’s narrative.
“I always found it fascinating to spend time in Lillian’s library— — and now online at the Internet Archive—it sparks your imagination,” said Raim, who produced and directed a 2015 documentary Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story, about Michelson, now 92, and her husband, Harold, a storyboard artist and production designer, who died in 2007. The film pays tribute to the beloved couple and their contribution behind the scenes to some of the greatest movies in the past 50 years.
After the panel discussion, the Internet Archives hosted a viewing party of the documentary.
For nearly 100 years, the Marygrove College library was the hub of activity on campus. The small, liberal arts college in Detroit didn’t have a student union, so the library served as the heartbeat of campus, offering students a place to study, learn and socialize.
“The Marygrove library was very unique. It was a place where students came for help and to see their classmates,” says Laura Manley, a librarian from 2005-2015. “If they didn’t understand something about an assignment, they would find out from others and network in the library.”
As enrollment dropped and financial pressures mounted, the college closed in December 2019. The fate of the library collection was uncertain. Administrators explored avenues to sell or dispose of the books but decided instead to donate the entire collection to the Internet Archive. More than 70,000 volumes were boxed up and then scanned into a digital format. The physical copies were put into storage and the Archive makes one digital version of each item available for free check out through its Controlled Digital Lending (CDL) program.
Rather than shut its doors permanently, the library has a new home online. The Internet Archive celebrated the reopening of the Marygrove College Library last October, offering a way for the heart of the Marygrove campus to keep beating.
“I was thrilled with the idea that the collection went as a body and could live on,” says Jennifer Meacham, who worked at the library for 15 years. “The library had a long history of expanding to meet the growing needs of the student body as it changed.”
Marygrove began as a Catholic women’s college, eventually becoming co-ed and predominantly African American, reflecting the demographics of the surrounding community. Professors emphasized not just learning in the classroom, but the importance of making the world a better place, says Meacham. That translated into a need for materials on social justice issues. And because librarians worked closely with students, they were able to learn about their specific research projects and purchase materials tailored to their interests.
As Meacham curated the children’s book collection at Marygrove, she intentionally bought books with black and brown characters covering issues that were relatable to students who teachers graduating from the college would have in class. Once the collection was made available online, Meacham says she eagerly browsed through the diverse collection and was pleased to know it is now freely available to anyone.
Jeffrey Zachwieja was hired in 1996 as a reference and instruction librarian as Marygrove was beginning to move from card catalogues to an automated system with electronic databases. “We wanted to preserve the past, but move to the future,” says Zachwieja, who built the library’s first website. Care was taken to keep the collection current while keeping books that reflected the deep history of various fields of study at the college, including education and religion.
The library became a go-to spot for technology, providing many students with their only access to the internet or a computer. Librarians provided individual support to students as they navigated new platforms and software programs.
Students needing help at the library reflected the span of the student body from undergraduates who had come through the Detroit Public Schools to graduate students in their 30s and 40s. Manley says it was fulfilling to work with the students one-on-one, especially those who had limited technology experience and relied heavily on the library.
Meacham says the library tried to provide a range of services in all things related to information. Librarians recommended materials for research papers, direction on bibliographies, feedback to make sure students weren’t plagiarizing, and an audience to practice a presentation. “The library was seen as a human resource,” she says. “We had a very good reputation and would bend over backwards for students and faculty,” she says.
Manley says the experience at Marygrove changed how she viewed access to education.
“I went from thinking when I first started my career that people should succeed by merit. But what I witnessed is there were all kinds of bright students who should have knowledge readily available. But they had to struggle because of reasons that were no fault of their own,” says Manley. “Whether they didn’t have a solid enough K-12 or it was socioeconomics, not everyone starts at the same playing field. Sometimes you have to bring someone up to speed to be able to fly. They are just as worthy and have just as much potential.”
Librarians at Marygrove went beyond their traditional role to help support students. “Our goal was to help students succeed. Once they had a foundation, they could do anything,” Manley says.
A coalition of advocacy and public interest groups has joined forces to launch the Library Futures Institute, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) committed to upholding the right of libraries to provide users with materials in the new digital environment.
The new organization launched its website on January 25 and will work to empower libraries to fulfill their mission of providing equal and equitable access to culture for the public good.
“We need to preserve the significant value of library collections that benefit learning, research, intellectual enrichment of the public — but in the digital space,” said Kyle K. Courtney, board chair of Library Futures, and a copyright advisor and program manager at the Harvard Library Office for Scholarly Communication. “Libraries have been a fundamental part of worldwide access to knowledge.”
The pandemic has underscored the urgency for libraries to transform to the digital age, Courtney said. The need for libraries to be able to provide digital material is a consumer issue that Library Futures hopes will gain traction with the broader public. “We are hoping to win hearts and minds to effectuate change,” Courtney said.
Library Futures was triggered by the challenge that libraries face accessing digital materials from publishers. Libraries have long co-existed with publishers and are trustworthy partners, but there has been a shift in the relationship in the digital world, Courtney said. Library Futures will advocate for less-restrictive licensing agreements for e-content, content ownership and stewardship, broad digital access for the public, and implementing the practice of Controlled Digital Lending (CDL), where patrons can borrow one secure digital copy of a book for every print book that a library owns.
Executive Director of Library Futures Jennie Rose Halperin says it’s critical for libraries to stand up from a position of strength to assert the role that libraries have in society.
“When you think about the power of the internet – to have any piece of information at your fingertips is amazing. And yet, the ways publishing captures knowledge globally means that dream cannot be realized,” said Halperin, who has worked as a librarian and digital strategist for Creative Commons and Harvard University Law School. “I believe libraries play a crucial and unique role in changing that paradigm.”
The agenda for Library Futures will include awareness building, education, outreach, and advocacy.
The Internet Archive is among the initial coalition partners supporting Library Futures. Others include: Authors Alliance, Boston Public Library, Creative Commons, EveryLibrary, Public Knowledge, Readers First, SPARC, and Special Libraries Association.
“I care about libraries lending, purchasing and preserving materials,” said Halperin. “As a coalition and advocacy organization, Library Futures is positioned to bring together organizations into conversation with libraries, archives, museums and the entire cultural heritage community to effectuate change.”
As part of its initial public programming, on February 10 Library Futures will co-host a panel discussion with the Internet Archive focused on dispelling myths about Controlled Digital Lending. Registration for the webinar is free and open to the public.
Authorized readers have special access to millions of digitized books through the Internet Archive’s program, connecting patrons with print disabilities to a vast digital library.
Doug Wilson says he’s a bit of a “bookaholic.” As senior pastor of a nondenominational church in West Covina, California, he surrounds himself with books at his office and study at home.
“I’m a voracious reader and love learning,” said Wilson, who recalls taking a wagon to the library every week as a kid and bringing back a stack of books. “I find life intriguing.”
The 64-year-old said his vision has never been great, but within the last year noticed it was worsening. Wilson was struggling to read print with small font sizes or in low light. An avid user of the Internet Archive, he learned about the Archive’s program for users with print disabilities, which allows authorized users to skip waitlists for the ebook collection and download protected EPUBs and PDFs. Wilson applied for the program and was granted access, with great results.
“It’s so helpful to be able to have multiple resources open at once on my computer,” said Wilson, who looks up material online from ancient thought to contemporary theology for his sermons. “It’s been wonderful to find something on just about anything.”
Signing up for the program was easy and fast, said Wilson. Students and researchers associated with a university can obtain access through their university library or student success center. For those outside higher ed, the process is run by Jessamyn West at the Vermont Mutual Aid Society, who receives requests through an online form from patrons around the world. People who qualify for the program include those with blindness, low-vision, dyslexia, brain injuries and other cognition problems who need extra time to interact with materials. Since October 2018, West has welcomed more than 5,600 users into the program.
“It makes a real difference to people’s lives,” said West. “Especially nowadays when many people are stuck at home and working with limited resources, having a world of accessible books available to them opens doors and expands horizons. I’ve seen people checking out books on drawing and painting, books about art history and comparative religions, and just a lot of fiction. The collection is truly extensive.”
With expanded access to digitized books, Wilson said he has been reconnecting with works written by many of his mentors through the digital theological collections. “It’s been a profound gift to discover those books that have been influential in my life. Getting access has been another way to be encouraged and mentored even from a distance,” said Wilson, adding he is in a season of life when many of those people are passing away. “The service has been so generous and a supplement to my own library.”
Being able to find the exact resource he needs from home and late at night is a convenience that Wilson said he values. Wilson has enjoyed books from Marygrove Library, a collection full of religious and social justice materials that was recently donated and made available online.
In an era with competing forms of information and disinformation, Wilson said the Internet Archive is important. “Wisdom is hard to come by,” said Wilson. “We are barraged with data in our culture. It can be hard to ferret out what’s real. To have access to actual information and works that have stood the test of time is a godsend.”
To learn more about the Internet Archive’s program for users with print disabilities, and to verify eligibility, please visit the program web page.
Filmmakers responded with enthusiasm and creativity to a call from the Internet Archive to make short films using newly available content from 1925 in celebration of Public Domain Day. They discovered a new freedom in being able to remix film clips with Greta Garbo, magazine covers with flappers, and sheet music from standards like “Sweet Georgia Brown” – all downloadable for free and reusable without restriction.
For the contest, vintage images and sounds were woven into films of 2-3 minutes that conveyed a sense of whimsy, nostalgia, and humor. While some were abstract and others educational, they all showcased ingenuity and possibility when materials are openly available to the public.
“The Internet Archive has spent 24 years collecting and archiving content from around the world…now is the time to see what people can do with it,” said Amir Saber Esfahani, director of special arts projects at the Internet Archive. He was a judge in the December short-film contest along with Carey Hott, professor of art and design at the University of San Francisco, and Brewster Kahle, digital librarian and founder of the Internet Archive.
The judges reviewed 23 entries and chose a winner based on creativity, variety of 1925 content (including lists of all sources), and fit for the event (fun, interesting and captivating). These new creative works may also be available for reuse, as indicated by the license term selected by the creator.
First place: Danse des Aliénés
Joshua Curry, a digital artist from San Jose, won first place for his submission, Danse des Aliénés (Dance of the Insane), in which he layers pieces of film on three panes with images rising and falling music to “Dance Macabre” (Dance of Death) performed by the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. The format was inspired by the poem dramatized in triptych in the short film In Youth, Beside the Lonely Sea. His creation included flashes of Greta Garbo, ghosts from Koko Sees Spooks and colorful designs flowing in and out of the frames.
Curry, who has been making experimental videos since the 1980s, says the project was a perfect fit for his artist techniques, where he likes to stress and transform film in new ways. His film had a glitchy, broken feel that is in line with the aesthetic he often uses (See his other work at lucidbeaming.com.)
“I wanted it to be evocative and for people to appreciate it as a stand-alone piece of art,” says Curry, 49. “My visual goal was to produce something challenging that a wide variety of people could connect to – despite being mostly abstract and sourced from 95-year-old content.”
While Curry’s studio is modern and full of electronic equipment, working with the 1925 content and hearing music with cartoonish voices making novelty, popping sounds their cheeks was a welcome break. “One day when I was choosing the music, I was driving around the city listening to songs and felt like I was transported back in time,” Curry says.
He says it was also a pleasure to have easy access to the public domain content without commercial gatekeeping or legal obstacles, which he often encounters with digital material he wants to remix. As it happens, Curry just completed a class in multimedia copyright. He says he works hard to operate within the rules because he wants his video creations to survive online and not be taken down because of copyright infringement allegations.
Having the works for this project in the public domain meant less time trying to get the content and more time to focus on the creative process. “It was like being a little kid who was told he couldn’t have cake and then one day saying: ‘Dive in!’,” Curry said of the access to the 1925 material in the Internet Archive.
Receiving the contest’s top honors was particularly meaningful, says Curry, because he works in Silicon Valley where the Internet Archive has “great nerd cred” and is a library that people revere.
“I was proud to win with weirdness,” Curry says. “My piece was abstract, without narration or titles, and an authentic tribute to the pioneering work of the experimental films I made use of.”
To learn more about Curry’s inspirations and to hear from him directly, watch the director’s commentary that was captured during the Public Domain Day event.
Arden Spivack-Teather, 12, and Sissel Ramierz, 13, both of San Francisco, won third place for their short film, Fashion of the 1920s. It traces the evolution of women’s clothing from tight-fitting styles that required corsets to drop-waisted, loose dresses popularized by flappers. “Women could finally be chic and comfortable at the same time,” the film notes. “Every time you notice a fabulous flowing frock, thank the 20s.”
Arden found out about the contest through her mom, Cari Spivack, a staff member at the Internet Archive, and decided to partner with her friend, Sissel, a classmate since kindergarten who she had collaborated with for a winning science fair project in fifth grade. On Zoom and FaceTime, the girls looked through old McCalls magazines and decided to focus on the changing style of women’s clothing.
“It was really fun to use our creativity and find things that would look good together,” said Arden, who had never before made a film. Although the research, script and editing were a challenge, she says she hopes to do it again.
Spivack said she enjoyed seeing her daughter explore the material in the Archive, giggling and musing at the kitchen table about the tonics and ads she discovered. “It was exactly what I was hoping would happen — that they would be gripped by fascination of a time period that was long gone. They could travel back and learn on their own, paging through a magazine just like someone their age would have in 1925.”
The diversity of approaches people had with the films was impressive, added Spivack.
“It’s a good introduction to what can be done with old materials. You can use them to learn and to educate others. Or you can reuse them to make something that’s completely unexpected or never seen before,” Spivack said. “As archivists everything is important. But you don’t know why until you see what it can turn into or what it informs in the future.”
Yo Hey Look!by Adam Dziesinski, which pieced together film clips where something caught an actor’s eye, from a baby in a wicker stroller to a woman with a bob haircut dancing to a man in a Bowler hat laughing.
Michaela Giles made a time-lapse film of her using oil pastels, pencils, paints, and pens to draw a profile of a woman gracing the front of a vintage publication in 1925 Magazine Cover Recreation.
Public Domain Day by Subhashish Panigrahi explained the basics of how copyright works with text interspersed with cartoon clips, colorful paintings, and magazine covers.
25 Dad Jokes from 1925 by Anirvan Chatterjee was a compilation of jokes gathered from vintage middle school and high school yearbooks from Iowa, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Oregon, California. Among the corny humor: “Why is the ocean so angry? It’s been crossed too many times,” and “What are the three most often words used in school? I don’t know.”
The films were shown at the December 17 Public Domain Day virtual party, where the creators were asked to discuss their projects in breakout room discussions. You can view a livestream of the event here.
Looking around your home in the new year and wondering what to do with all the stuff you’ve accumulated? You’re not alone — turns out 54% of Americans are overwhelmed by the amount of clutter around them. As people move or downsize, they are often in a dilemma about what to do with their beloved books and records. The same goes for colleges and libraries when they close or relocate. So what’s a preservation-minded person or organization supposed to do with their extra books, records, or other media?
The Internet Archive is here to help! We welcome donations with open arms — from single books to entire libraries. The Internet Archive seeks to preserve and digitize one copy of every book, record, CD, film, and microfilm in support of our mission to provide “Universal Access to All Knowledge.”
“Increasingly, people are turning to the Internet Archive to preserve materials and give them new life online,” said Liz Rosenberg, donation manager. “Staff members can even help to arrange for a convenient pick up of larger donations.”
“We are always looking for items that we don’t have already or ones that are in better shape,” said Rosenberg, who encourages people to check online, if convenient, if a copy is needed. For large collections or donations with special circumstances, Internet Archive will go onsite to pack and ship items at no expense to the donor. “Our goal is to make this process easy for donors.”
Internet Archive receives a variety of materials from individuals and organizations. Boxes can be mailed to facilities in Richmond, California, or brought to drop off locations in the U.S. and England. The Archive tries to digitize materials and make them available publicly, as funding allows.
Recent personal donations have included a collection of railroad maps and atlases from the 1800s. Also, a large collection of fragile 78rpm records was donated by a person in Washington, D.C., and 18,000 LP, 45, and 78 records were donated from a home in Arkansas.
We are happy to give donors a receipt for tax purposes and celebrate the donation on the archive.org site if appropriate.
“We would love to provide a forever home for your media wherever you are located, however much you have,” said Rosenberg. “I love doing this role. It restores my faith in the goodness of the world every day.”
Leaders in the open world, intellectual property & social justice came together with hundreds of supporters to celebrate the works moving into the public domain in January 2021. Livestream available.
The Internet Archive celebrated the upcoming release of works created in 1925 for unrestricted use, from the jazz standard “Sweet Georgia Brown” to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic The Great Gatsby, at a virtual party December 17.
The gathering marked Public Domain Day, January 1, when copyright will be lifted from an array of movies, books, and other works of art produced 85 years ago. A quartet played a medley of songs that will enter the public domain in 2021; the winning entry of a short film contest was shown, paying tribute to works from 1925; and a panel of copyright experts and open advocates discussed today’s information sharing landscape. Watch the celebration now on the captured livestream.
“Why openness? To make the world more equitable, promote social justice, and to find answers in times of pandemic,” said Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive. “Public domain gives freedom to enjoy, freedom to share, freedom to fly. It is the gold standard of openness.”
A robust public domain is essential for the future free knowledge, said Katherine Maher, chief executive officer of the Wikimedia Foundation and guest panelist. More than just artifacts of the past (old movies, painting, and books), the public domain includes government works, 3D models of asteroids, and massive data sets to help people better understand the world.
“We all benefit when work enters the public domain and when people choose to dedicate things to the common good – whether it’s art or research or data,” Maher said. “When these works become available for public access and use, everyone can participate in culture and knowledge and we can begin to address vast inequities.”
The recent release by the Smithsonian of nearly three million images and data into public domain was a “big win,” noted Catherine Stihler, chief executive officer of Creative Commons. However, the community needs to remain vigilant.
“We still have to fight the good fight and push back against misguided proposals to extend copyright and ways that lock up our shared cultural heritage,” Stihler said.
Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) said the fastest development of a vaccine in history demonstrates the value of open.
“Access to knowledge is a fundamental human right,” Joseph said. “There has never been a moment in time when the need to promote and protect our ability to quickly and freely share science has been more urgent…For all darkness of 2020, to witness this amazing progress powered by openness has provided some really welcome light.”
The public domain was designed to empower everyone – regardless of economic or political status – to give access to knowledge and all of its building blocks from data to facts, ideas to theories to scientific principles, said Joseph.
Still, there is a history of copyright being used to exploit African Americans and other marginalized communities, as opposed to a tool of benefit and empowerment, said Lateef Mtima, professor of law at Howard University School of Law, and founder and director of the Institute for Intellectual Property and Social Justice.
“For the intellectual property system to work properly, it has to adhere to social justice obligations, principles of equitable able access, inclusion and empowerment for everyone,” said Mtima. “The way we get to create new works is to make sure everyone has an opportunity to be exposed to as many works as possible in the first place, because then they become inspired to produce new work.”
The Public Domain Day celebration reflects a positive inflection point in the social justice trajectory of copyright. With digital technology, there is a way to make the rich harvest of public materials available to everyone. But in order to do this, Mtima emphasized the need for broad societal investment in conquering the digital divide.
Amplifying some of the inequities, Kevin Green, chair and professor at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, shared an “Ode to the Public Domain” that he wrote for the event.
As part of the celebration, Amir Saber Esfahani announced the winner of the Public Domain Day Short Film contest: Danse des Aliénés (Dance of the Insane), an entry that incorporated music and images into a video collage paying tribute to works of 1925.
Wrapping up the evening, Kyle K. Courtney, a copyright lawyer and librarian at Harvard, mixed a Gin Rickey, a cocktail mentioned in The Great Gatsby. Then, Martin Kalfatovic, associate director of digital programs at the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives, offered a toast:
“Here’s to the progress of science and the useful arts, the explosion of creativity remixed in multiple formats. And as the new year passes again and again, we replenish the cup of our public domain.”
Added Kahle: “Public Domain Day is a fabulous holiday that should be enshrined forever. Long live the public domain and the community that supports it.”
The third and final session of the 2020 Library Leaders Forum wrapped up Tuesday with a focus on the impact of Controlled Digital Lending on communities to provide broader access to knowledge. A full recording of the session is now available online.
Michelle Wu was honored with the Internet Archive Hero Award for her vision in developing the legal concept behind CDL. In her remarks, the attorney and law librarian shared her thoughts on the development and future of the lending practice. Wu does not see the theory that she designed 20 years ago as revolutionary, but rather a logical application of copyright law that allows libraries to fulfill their mission.
Despite current legal challenges, Wu predicts CDL can continue if libraries make themselves and their users heard.
“We must make sure that the public interests served are fully described, visible and clear to lawmakers and courts at the time they make their decisions,” Wu said. “If we do that, I believe the public interest will prevail and CDL will survive.”
The pandemic has underscored the need for digital access to materials and changed attitudes about CDL among libraries that had previously been risk averse to the practice, Wu said.
“The closing of our libraries due to COVID has changed that mindset permanently,” Wu said. “It showed how the desire to avoid risk resulted in the actual and widespread harm to populations, depriving them of content at a time when access was more important than ever.”
Because of the pandemic, libraries are now empowered to try innovative practices to serve their patrons.
“With this new heightened awareness, I think the future of access is brighter,” Wu said. “Not only do I think CDL will flourish, but there seems to be very real chance that libraries will more aggressively fight to regain some of the public interest benefits of copyright that they’ve lost over the years.”
In the future, Wu maintained that CDL can ensure a balance for full and equal access to knowledge for every person.
“Reliable access to information is the great equalizer,” Wu said. “Information shapes each of us, and lack of it is part of what increases our divide.”
(A complete profile of Wu’s work can be found here.)
The event also included the virtual ribbon cutting ceremony announcing the reopening of the Marygrove College Library. The Internet Archive now houses its 70,000-volume library online, and has preserved the physical copies, after the institution closed the campus in 2019 and donated its entire collection for digitization. The move preserves books that reflect the college’s rich history of social justice and education programs that largely served women, African Americans and low-income students in Detroit.
“The knowledge that [the books] would still be available and still be utilized just keeps us going as we wrap up the college,” said Marygrove President Elizabeth Burns at the Forum. “It’s a sad, sad time, but it is also a time where we know the impact of the college will continue…It’s a very tangible measure of Marygrove for the future.”
Chris Freeland, director of Open Libraries at the Internet Archive, moderated a panel with Marygrove librarian Mary Kickham-Samy, Mike Hawthorne, a librarian at nearby Wayne State University, and Brenda Bryant, dean and director of Marygrove’s social justice program, to talk about the transformation of the library into a digital format.
“It’s exciting! I’m thrilled that it won’t be in just one small corner,” said Bryant of the library’s move online and value to scholars. Bryant built the nation’s first Master of Arts program in social justice at Marygrove and considered the library one of the best kept secrets on campus. “Like my activist friend Elena Herrada [said], the collection was important because in Detroit, reading is an act of resistance.”