Must We Abide? Libraries Should Push the License Agreement Envelope

Article excerpt

More and more, publishers, database providers, and other corporate content proprietors are taking steps to replace the traditional benefits of ownership with the rigorously controlled provisions of licensing. Known as terms of sale (TOS) or end-user license agreements (EULAs), these licenses uniformly stipulate who can (and can't) use a certain product and bow that product can (and can't) be used. Such restrictions place alarming limitations on libraries' ability to develop meaningful collections and to provide access in ways most suitable to their communities. Even more alarming, however, is the fact that we are doing nothing about it.

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In her In Practice column, "Read the Fine Print" (AL, Nov./Dec. 2010, p. 30), Meredith Farkas calls attention to the TOS used by Netflix and Amazon to control how their services and products may be used. She rightly observes that libraries currently circulating Netflix DVDs or Kindle e-books are in clear violation of TOS parameters. Warning that such lending puts libraries (as well as the school districts, colleges and universities, companies, and municipalities they are a part of) at risk of legal action, she stresses, "In considering a new technology, it is imperative that a library understand what rules it must abide by."

This cautionary advice is well warranted, and libraries that haven't been reading license agreements definitely should be. But are these terms acceptable? How can a profession purportedly committed to providing unfettered access to information resources simply "abide by" restrictions that compromise our collections and services?

Libraries today must continually incorporate new technologies and deliver an expanding array of information and services in ways that are useful and convenient for patrons. It is entirely reasonable-even innovative--that some libraries have taken to using Netflix and Kindles. Though unquestionably violating license conditions, those rogue libraries are also upholding longstanding tenets of our profession. …