Magazine article Information Today

I'm Not a Lawyer, I Just Play One at the Library

Magazine article Information Today

I'm Not a Lawyer, I Just Play One at the Library

Article excerpt

I'm Not a Lawyer, I Just Play One at the Library Licensing Digital Content: A Practical Guide for Librarians (Second Edition) by Lesley Ellen Harris Chicago: American Library Association, 2009 ISBN: 978-0-8389-0992-8 176 pages; $57, softcover

It didn't take long after the proliferation of digital library resources for a huge variety of license agreements to emerge. These license agreements are the pesky things that vendors always want you to sign and can range from a single paragraph to imposing, multipage documents.

Though we are confident about our information skills and may know what our users want and need, we may not be as skilled at the arts of contract interpretation and negotiation - and not all of us have lawyers available to help us with this. Since signing licenses - or declining to sign them - can be a nerveracking business, this new edition of Licensing Digital Content will help to calm some of your fears.

Lesley Harris, an experienced attor- ney in copyright and other library-related topics, has worked in depth with Cana- dian and U.S. licensing and copyright law. As senior copyright officer with the Canadian government from 1987 to 1991, she helped revise the country's copyright laws. She has written many articles and several books (including the first edition of Licensing Digital Content, 2002) and has regularly presented on these topics at meetings, seminars, and conferences in the U.S. and Canada. Harris assures readers that this book is not just for the U.S. authence; licensing is a global issue, and these principles apply to licenses in many nations.

Five Key Elements

Harris jumps right into licensing, suggesting five key elements that libraries should look out for in a license: 1) ease of access to the work, 2) onestop transactions, 3) clear definitions, 4) access after termination of the license, and 5) definition of the library's liability regarding the use of licensed content.

Harris is correct in stating that "there is no industry standard for licensing content by libraries." There are some elements that appear often, but you will need to review each license individually to see how it fits your needs. To make this as simple as possible, Harris suggests that you create a licensing policy for your library. Such a policy can provide guidance and consistency through staff and vendor changes, and it should include background on licenses your library already has, as well as suggested terms and conditions for future license negotiations.

The book provides a generic model licensing policy that can be used as a starting point for any library. It includes boilerplate text defining what a license agreement is, common clauses in license agreements, and sample directions for licensing. I just wish this document was available in an electronic format so that users wouldn't have to retype the parts that they want to use.

Most of the revised book is an explanation of the language of licensing contracts, or as Harris says, "learning the Ungo." Some of this is basic law, such as the three components of a valid contract: 1) an offer to do or refrain from doing something, 2) acceptance of the offer, and 3) consideration (of which money is one form, according to Harris). Since I am not a lawyer, I really appreciated the discussion of key digital licensing clauses and boilerplate, which continues for nearly 50 pages. These sections will help you dissect any license agreement and understand its individual elements.

Understandable Chunks of Information

For each of the many possible clauses of a license, there is a highlighted "Licensing Tip" and several paragraphs of explanation. Some topics are explained in much more depth for several pages. …

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