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Licenses, e-Access… Are They Diminishing Information Distribution?

Just before the new year, I was talking to one of the people on our copyright committee and he brought up a very interesting question. Is it possible that we will run into an information shortage as we move toward more and more e-access for everything from music to journal articles to books? Here is his reasoning.

First there’s the problem of disappearing fair use. E-access comes with license agreements which trump fair use, and it immediately flips the switch from copyright/fair use to DMCA, which radically reduces user rights. So what happens if a larger and larger portion of our collections are ebooks, ejournals, emusic, etc.? Will our faculty be able to employ these works in their instruction to the same extent? This is largely dependent on the licenses we sign, so as more and more of our collection is electronic we will have to be more and more careful what rights we sign away.

Secondly, what happens if the major, larger, richer libraries stop receiving print versions of books and journals and instead subscribe to e-access for those things? And what if their license agreements restrict those libraries’ abilities to lend via interlibrary loan? The smaller libraries that have benefited from interlibrary loan arrangements may not have access at all any more.

I’d never thought of this before. I love e-access to information, and it would be hard to serve our students without it (and we don’t even have a traditional distance education program, so I can’t imagine what a boon e-access is for those libraries). But I think we’ll have to be careful when balancing growing collections with static amounts of available space, or when we’re eager to give 24/7 access to patrons near and far. If we aren’t careful we may end up like stranded sailors dying of thirst in the middle of an ocean of water. We may end up having access to only our own subscription resources while wading through a flood of information flowing all around us, but denied to us.

It’s a thought to give me pause, and it reinforces that while libraries “aren’t just about books any more” we still need to be about books. It also reinforces that laws and license agreements need to change to the point that we can make use of e-versions of information in the same way that we can make use of analog versions.

Published inCopyrighteBooksLibraries and Librarians


  1. Kathryn Greenhill Kathryn Greenhill

    One of the concerns expressed at my library is with e-book licenses, and how you have to keep buying the new editions. Often you purchase the current edition, and are licensed to use it until the next edition comes out.

    Now, with a print book, when the next edition came out, you may conclude that it’s a bit peripheral to your collection and you can wait a few years until the one after that. You still have the original on the shelf for reference.

    Not so with electronic…New edition? Licencing it? No? OK..we no longer provide the old edition. You now have nothing.

    Maybe electronic formats are liberating data too… with the rising authority of Open Source journals and the indescriminate scanning of as much print as possible by google. It just usually isn’t the stuff we want.

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