Wednesday, July 27, 2011
of libraries and writers (and rights)
(image courtesy ourpubliclibrary.to)
We Love Our Libraries
Margaret Atwood's Twitter influence is legendary. The super-popular Canadian author wields immense power in her tweeting thumbs, and can draw the eyes of close to 230,000 direct followers and an untold number of others depending on the retweets she inspires. I've seen the greatness that is Tweetwood up close, when a generous retweet by her about one of my copyright postings brought ridiculous traffic to this blog, blowing the analytics charts all out of proportion for a couple of days. I can look back on my traffic timeline now and say "oh yeah, that's when Ms. Atwood came for a visit."
This week, Toronto's mayoral family is learning a thing or two about both Twitter and Margaret Atwood. The story of the Ford brothers and the potential closing of Toronto Public Library branches has been widely reported and doesn't need repeating here.
What I want to stress about this story is that when a Canadian library system finds itself in the cross hairs, endangered by the populist mania for showy cost-cutting no matter the cultural damage, it is a Canadian author who raises her voice in protest and brings the issue some much-needed perspective and attention. To see the discussion inspired by Ms. Atwood's advocacy on behalf of libraries, see her Twitter feed @MargaretAtwood, or the comment sections below the media reports (the Toronto Star story has close to 400 comments already -- for a story about libraries!).
They're Just Not That Into Us
Canadian writers and cultural workers are tireless supporters of the public library system, and of the fabulous work of public, school and university librarians. We consider library workers to be our partners in culture. I can say without exaggeration that I likely would not have become a writer if there had not been a marvelous public library in Aurora, Ontario when I was growing up, and fabulous school libraries in my elementary and secondary schools.
And that's why it continues to be depressing to me and to many other Canadian writers - Ms. Atwood included (I imagine) - that the Canadian Library Association, an essential organization that has done so much good for Canadian culture, has allowed itself to be aligned with a free-culture movement intent on harming Canadian writers by weakening and even removing our rights of ownership over our own intellectual property. The CLA's recent Call to Action on Copyright contains so much Geistian free-culture rhetoric and user-right focus (including sections on ISP liability and "digital locks") it may as well have been written by the relentless free-culture campaigner himself (and maybe it was).
Quoting the controversial CCH Canadian Ltd. v. Law Society of Upper Canada Supreme Court decision, the CLA clearly places the desires of users above the existing rights of creators. They also support the massive expansion of educational fair dealing that, despite not yet being in force, has inspired many universities to test the waters in avoiding payment to creators for use of their work in the classroom.
Considering how strongly and passionately Canadian writers stand behind our public library systems, it's painful to see our partners in culture flap in the populist free-culture winds and advocate against our rights. Are front line library workers aware of just how far their association has gone to alienate Canadian writers from the library system, despite our continued and unwavering support of libraries?
Where's Your Free Culture Now?
I just quickly checked Michael Geist's blog. As I suspected... not one word about the proposed cuts to Canadian libraries. He's too busy preparing a FAQ for Canadian universities on how to stop paying Canadian writers through our national copyright tariff. Fascinating stuff -- it includes directions on how to end-run around Canadian copyright by getting materials from the States, and how to find "suitable replacements" for Canadian works.
WWMAD? (What Would Margaret Atwood Do?)