The Library Vs. Netflix

Card Catalog anyone?

This is going to get some traction in the media.

Read the original article here, the Chronicle’s response and ReadWriteWeb’s analysis.

My view:

This is a sticky one. I started out thinking I wasn’t surprised by this, since libraries are all about access and allowing information to be open to all. But then on second thought, I realized that this is a major no-no. Librarians are trained (as I am in process right now) to be always aware of copyright and to protect it at all costs, despite the media format, and it is appalling to me that this could go unchecked, and that Michael Stephens (of Tame The Web, a widely read library blog) would post this without a second thought. The comments in the discussion are very telling, as most were inquiring about the legalities of using a personal subscription service for corporate/public purposes.

Three things stand out for me: first, the author makes it plain and clear that this was a financial decision. The library saved money, and therefore this must be a worthwhile venture. You can’t really argue with her there, as libraries are consistently losing public funding and having to scrape at every angle. Second, this is based at an academic library, not a public library. There could be some sort of a case made for “educational materials” if copyright became a major issue, but one would be hard-pressed to make a good case there with popular films and live streaming. And third, she didn’t state, and I would wonder how this is actually handled, that students were taking Netflix DVDs out of the library. As I read it, they are using the libraries resources (TV, computers, classrooms) to access these materials. This COULD be equated with any other type of database that the library subscribes to, and thus make sense as a viable option for disseminating materials.

This is a strange, strange case of someone with a great idea that might not work out as they hoped. The happy ending to this story would be that Netflix would take this opportunity to introduce an institutional plan, as it seems there is already a market that is willing and able to subscribe. However, the bottom line that will continue to be addressed as this issue spreads, is as Willard commented on the original article, “Librarians follow the law when licensing materials, regardless of whether anyone has objected.”

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