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Licensing Permissions from the CCC

For the two or three of you that haven’t heard, the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) has decided to license permissions to copyrighted material (note that on the left-hand side of that screen you can read an overview of the license itself in PDF). They say that this will be convenient (well yeah, you’ve already paid) and that you’ll gain “confidence” and “peace of mind.”

As much as I hate to say it, I think they’ll gain a lot of customers on those last two points alone. Nothing makes people squirm as much as copyright permissions. Everyone always doubts their fair use analysis and forgets that “multiple copies for classroom use” is written right into the fair use clause of the law.

But why might you not want to sign up for that license? James Boyle of the Financial Times has a great piece on that, as does Peter Hirtle of the LibraryLaw blog (his analysis is here). In short, here are the key issues as I see them (both of which figure large in Hirtle’s post):

  • Paying for permission when you don’t have to erodes fair use arguments in the future by increasing the market value of the work.
  • Permissions come in many shapes and sizes. What is the use of licensing permissions from the CCC when we already pay licensing fees from databases, for example?

I would hate to see my library go this route, especially since I imaging that the CCC fee structures are based on a fairly -er- “optimistic” interpretation of fair use. And yet I feel sympathy for libraries that either don’t have the staff to go through the permissions process, or don’t have the training to determine fair use on their own.

At the same time, just writing that last sentence makes me feel like I’ve just said, “It’s just too bad some kids don’t have the wherewithal to learn to read…” I recognize that licensing will be an attractive option, but I think it’ll cripple us.