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Protection or piracy: Quite the stooshie
Wednesday, 18th January 2012
Today Wikipedia is on strike as it takes its English language site offline in protest at proposed United States anti-piracy laws. The proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) legislation is a complex issue and is neatly explained over on FUMSI.
My colleague quite rightly reminds us that, as information professionals, people and organisations are looking to us to guide and advise them through the copyright and piracy legislation. We need to get clear what is at stake for sure, but in my opinion that can be a real challenge in the digital environment of today.
As a freelance information professional I want protection or attribution for my ideas and creative works. It is how I make my living. However I also want my ideas and works to be built upon, to be shared more openly. I do not like reinvention of the wheel.
At the moment I am working on copyright requirements for a publicly funded project which should help health information to be more findable and sharable. I want my work to be open and yet I want protection – quite the contradiction.
This leads me to the yes we scan initiative in the US whereby all local and federal entities should release all the content they produce to spur innovation in private and non-profit organisations. The Economist notes that this is an indeed a massive task and not without financial implications, but hints that it is not a hopeless case. Could we see more US open government content with a dedicated department too? Stranger things have happened.
No joke but did you hear about the country that is not renewing its blanket copyright licence for a whole industry. Yes one of the biggest employers in the UK, the National Health Service (NHS Scotland branch) did not renew its national blanket copyright licences from the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) last year. It has caused quite an uproar and it goes far beyond getting an article from the British Medical Journal.
Document delivery processes have now been re-arranged, but a question still surrounds the use of content for other purposes including education. Teaching, education and professional development is an integral role of the NHS. As a physiotherapist questioned me recently – what should I do when a teaching pack cannot be collated and I cannot run a professional development programme for my staff effectively? What can I say?
Before it was all covered under the terms and cost of the national licence and this now puts health libraries in a very difficult situation in Scotland. Some health boards have now updated policy guidelines for fear of prosecution. A bad state of affairs indeed, with the CLA looking for whistleblowers by directing NHS employees to Copywatch.
The information professional may know what is at stake and we look to keep up to date with copyright issues but this is a moving target, my friend. Governments making decisions, like the US and Scottish, are poised on the precipice of creativity, innovation, protection but also cost savings. This fracas could last quite a bit longer.
By Joanna Ptolomey
Joanna is a freelance information consultant and analyst. She started her career in information as a clinical librarian in the NHS before moving to global consultancy group DTZ. Prior to working in the information sector Joanna was a project planning engineer in the construction industry for 10 years.
She hopes to help people use information for assessing risk, making decisions and in governance. She is particularly interested in inequalities issues such as accessibility, information literacy and the information divide especially in the healthcare sector. She is the author of a chapter 'Digital divide and accessibility' in Government Information Management in the 21st Century. She is also the author of the book Taking charge of your career: a guide for library and information professionals.
You can follow Joanna on Twitter.
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