Tag Archives: legal

Aaron, Lost, and Found Again

Panel: Open Access Activism, The Story of Aaron Swartz, with lessons for libraries and information.

Panel: Open Access Activism, The Story of Aaron Swartz, with lessons for libraries and information.

It’s been a couple years since Aaron died. Aaron who? Aaron Swartz. I’ve talked about him here a few times (Jan. 14, 2013; Jan. 15, 2013; Feb 2013; Jan 2014). Aaron was one of those bright and shining young stars, who did amazing things at early ages (helped code RSS at age 14?). reimagined ways to access information (see his fantastic Image Atlas collaboration with Taryn Simon), made very clear challenges with the status quo, and promised a future with much to contribute. That didn’t happen quite the way people hoped. In case you haven’t heard of him, there are a few links at the end of this post. Here is a quote from his dad at his memorial.

“We can’t bring Aaron back, he can no longer be the tireless worker for good… What we can do is change things for the better. We can work to change MIT so that it . . . once again becomes a place where risk and coloring outside the lines is encouraged, a space where the cruelties of the world are pushed back and our most creative flourish rather than being crushed.” https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/03/29/the-inside-story-mit-and-aaron-swartz/YvJZ5P6VHaPJusReuaN7SI/story.html

The University of Michigan is planning a really fantastic event this month looking at the circumstances of Aaron’s death, the factors that led up to it, the changes that have come after it, and how this has and is changing the information landscape and legal context in which libraries operate. Even better, you get to see the movie for FREE! Here is the event information.

Panel: Open Access Activism
Wednesday, June 17 at 4:00pm
Library Gallery, Hatcher Graduate Library, University of Michigan

Melissa Levine, U-M Library’s Lead Copyright Officer
Jack Bernard, U-M Associate General Counsel
Brian Knappenberger, Director, The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

Brian Knappenberger’s film chronicles the story of Aaron Swartz, information-access activist and Internet prodigy, who was targeted by the FBI in a high-profile criminal case involving JSTOR and MIT at the time of his death. Join Knappenberger, along with Lead Copyright Officer Melissa Levine, and Associate General Counsel Jack Bernard in a panel discussion about the issues of the case and how they relate to libraries and information both more generally and at the University of Michigan.

Film Screening: The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz
Tuesday, June 16 at 7:00pm
Join us for this free screening with the filmmaker at Michigan Theater the evening prior to the panel.


AaronSw (his site): http://www.aaronsw.com/

Wikipedia: Aaron Swartz: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Swartz

The inside story of MIT and Aaron Swartz: More than a year after Swartz killed himself rather than face prosecution, questions about MIT’s handling of the hacking case persist: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/03/29/the-inside-story-mit-and-aaron-swartz/YvJZ5P6VHaPJusReuaN7SI/story.html

Remember Aaron Swartz: http://www.rememberaaronsw.com/memories/

Naughton, John. Aaron Swartz stood up for freedom and fairness – and was hounded to his death: The internet activist who paid the ultimate price for his combination of genius and conscience. The Guardian 7 February 2015 18.00 EST. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/07/aaron-swartz-suicide-internets-own-boy

The Life of Aaron Swartz (a collection from the Internet Archive of the rich activity surrounding his loss): https://www.archive-it.org/collections/3492

BBC Four: Storyville: The Internet’s Own Boy http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b051wkry [IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3268458/ ] [Review: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/aug/31/internets-own-boy-review-aaron-swartz-mark-kermode ]

Internet Activist, a Creator of RSS, Is Dead at 26, Apparently a Suicide http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/technology/aaron-swartz-internet-activist-dies-at-26.html?_r=0

Fair Use & Figures: When Is It OK? (Part One: Copyright)

Last week I spent some time in conversations that began with Andrew Maynard’s posting a question to Twitter: “When is it OK to post a figure from a paper in a blog post?”

There were a lot of interesting thoughts and responses (before the conversation detoured off into mac’n’cheese and samurai swords). Things along the lines of, “What!? You mean research figures are different from pictures?” and “Isn’t it OK if you give a citation?” and “Well, my journal won’t allow it, but maybe some others do.” And what did the answer turn out to be? “It depends.” Isn’t that the truth – intellectual property issues always seems to depend on a variety of factors and situations. But answers to the various responses and questions were also sometimes not what was expected.

Does giving a citation to the source make it ok to share? Turns out it is irrelevant, in the sense of what is required legally, although it is expected as part of being active in scholarly culture as a matter of courtesy.

Now, more about posting research figures in blogs. I found quite a lot of information online to help explain part of how this works (or doesn’t). I’ll include small quotations that I found particularly helpful in understanding this better. Please not, IANAL (“I Am Not A Lawyer”!), so hopefully someone with more legal experience will contribute thoughts in the comments or will reply in another post.


The absolutely most helpful piece I found was from MIT Libraries.

MIT Libraries, Scholarly Publishing: Reuse of figures, images, and other content in theses http://libraries.mit.edu/scholarly/publishing/copyright-publishing-guide-for-students/reuse-of-figures-images-and-other-content-in-theses/

Please note, this is describing rights to re-use content in THESES, not blogposts, so it might be a little different. The MIT resource emphasized two main points (copyright, and fair use), with a pointed twist (oops, figures ARE different!).

Point 1: Is it copyrighted?

You see, if it isn’t copyrighted, if an image is in the public domain, you don’t have a problem — it is content you can use. That is more likely to apply to items that are quite old, or created by government employees in the performance of their job. But copyright gets complicated. What if the journal is from Australia instead of the United States? Whether or not a piece is copyrighted may change based on the country in which it was created.

Even if it is copyrighted, if it is licensed for open use, you are fine. Probably. OK, I’m going to show an image here that ought to be OK, and hope it really is. This stuff is tricky. If someone complains, I’ll blur out whatever part they are concerned about.

PubMed Example of Research Figure Searching & Display (Neuroinflammation Imaging) PubMed screenshot of:
Benjamin Pulli and John W Chen. Imaging Neuroinflammation – from Bench to Bedside. J Clin Cell Immunol. Author manuscript; available in PMC Dec 16, 2014. Published in final edited form as: J Clin Cell Immunol. 2014; 5: 226. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25525560

This is a screenshot from PubMed. PubMed is an open database developed and created by the US government. I had talked with our lawyers about using screenshots from databases in teaching and blogging about database interfaces. I was told (off the record) that it was probably OK to use the screenshots without asking for permissions as part of fair use. The idea was that even if the database legally has copyright protection for their user interface design (as they most assuredly do), that I am teaching and blogging about it is unlikely to impact on their sales negatively, which is one of the markers of “Fair Use” assessment. Chances are, if anything, my teaching and blogging about their database would serve as free advertising, increasing awareness and profits rather than reducing them. That assumes, of course, that I am saying good things about them. So, maybe it would be a different matter and not fair use if I was criticizing the database?

PubMed does this nifty thing where you can find images of research figures in the citations, if the original source is an article in PubMed Central, an extension of PubMed’s database that includes open access articles deposited by the publishers. (More info here about how they are different.) For the images displayed as thumbnails in PubMed, if you mouse over them, they get big and beautiful. This is what I’m showing in this screenshot.

This screenshot is of a citation record for an article that is open access and published in PubMed Central. Does the copyright permissions for screenshots in PubMed extend to the content? That this article is open access would mean that the article is copyrighted, but open for people who want to read it, and also available to re-use under specific guidelines. The guidelines given for the article are, “This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.” By the rules, I need to include a full citation with the image. I have done so, both in Flickr, where I put the screenshot, and here in the blogpost. BUT.

PubMed Example of Research Figure Searching & Display (Neuroinflammation Imaging) 2

BUT. But what? But this figure from the open access research article says that a portion of the image was modified from another source, WITH PERMISSION. Does that permission extend to me, since it was in an open access journal? I’m not sure. I’m not sure if I need to get two sets of permission to use this image, or none. Do I need to go back to the original authors of that portion and request permission myself? Do I need to blur out that portion of the image? Or did the process of these authors getting permission to use in an open access journal publication cover subsequent re-use? Do I need to check the policies for the journal where the source image was published? It’s … complicated.

For me, today, I’m electing to go ahead and use the image, trusting and hoping that the permissions cover this use. If someone complains, I will go back and blur out that portion of the image, and then replace it.

Many publishers have processes by which they establish policies that guide whether or not they give permission easily or if you have to jump through hoops or purchase permission. If you want to find out what the policies are for a journal with a figure you’d like to use, the place to check is SHERPA. If you want to know if a journal is open access, the you may want to check the DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals).

SHERPA/RoMEO – Publisher copyright policies & self-archiving http://www.sherpa.ac.uk/romeo/

DOAJ: http://doaj.org/

Part Two will look more deeply at the idea of Fair Use in using research figures. That’s where it gets really interesting, so stay tuned! For now, I hope you have a better sense of the two-pronged sword of copyright in using research figures:

– Yes, it’s OK to use research figures that are copyright-free, public domain, or open access;
– BUT, sometimes those categories are less than straightforward.

Anonymous Social Media Overview, Part Two: Selected Anonymous Social Tools

Anonymous Social Media Overview

I find it a little ironic that the big blowup with Whisper happened this week, while I’m in the middle of this series about anonymous apps (Part 1). Oh, you didn’t hear about that? Well, the gist of it is if you think you’re anonymous, you’re not; if you think they aren’t tracking you, they are; and that the only place that really destroys your usage information completely after you’re done is probably your public library, and even that is becoming iffy. But that is a topic probably best suited for the NEXT post in this series, since the conversation around the exposé is still expanding dramatically. Here’s just the intro piece.

Paul Lewis and Dominic Rushe. Revealed: how Whisper app tracks ‘anonymous’ users. The Guardian Thursday 16 October 2014 11.35 EDT. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/16/-sp-revealed-whisper-app-tracking-users

What I wanted to do in this post was simply walk through a quick introduction to some of the more prominent tools and services in the anonymous social media space. What has struck me is that while many of these are general, others target fairly specific audiences, such as high school students with YikYak, youth with Snapchat, and corporate with Confide.


Cloaq http://www.cloaq.co

Confide https://getconfide.com

Ello https://ello.co/beta-public-profiles

Peek https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/peek-for-iphone/id722634039?mt=8

Peek In Too http://www.peekintoo.com

PostSecret http://postsecret.com

Rumr http://rumrapp.com

Secret https://www.secret.ly

Six Billion Secrets http://www.sixbillionsecrets.com/top
Six Billion Secrets on Tumblr http://sixbillionsecrets.tumblr.com
Six Billion Secrets on Twitter https://twitter.com/6BillionSecrets

Snapchat https://www.snapchat.com

Sneeky http://www.sneekyapp.com

Social Number http://socialnumber.com

Spraffl http://www.spraffl.com

Spring (formerly Formspring) http://new.spring.me/

StreetChat http://www.streetchatapp.com

Tumblr https://www.tumblr.com/

Whisper http://whisper.sh

Wut http://www.wutwut.com

YikYak http://www.yikyakapp.com

A Personal Timeline of Library Privacy & Transparency

Card Catalog

I’ve been hanging around libraries most of my life. I was the kid who spent so much time at the local public library that they ran out of books I was allowed to read. I read everything in the Children’s Room. Then I read everything in the Youth Room. Then they had my parents sign a waiver to allow me to read books from the “adult” section, and even the locked cases (Chaucer! Yay!). Even more bizarre, I was paying attention to how the library ran things, even if I didn’t realize I was doing so at the time. Following yesterday’s post, I wanted to share just a few of these memories of how, even just in my lifetime, libraries and librarians have encountered various issues relating to privacy and transparency, and always found a way to respond. Please note, these are being pulled from my memory, and I’m not planning to take the time to look up supporting materials or evidence. All dates are approximate.

1950s to Early 1960s

Library Charge Card / Checkout Card

My oldest memories of checking books out from the library were that you had to be able to write your name, legibly. That was the big divider between “baby” and “big kid.” The reason seemed to be because every book had in it a pocket and a card. When you wanted a book, you would take it to the Circulation Desk. The librarian (and in those days they really WERE librarians, not check out clerks or paraprofessionals!) would remove the card and stamp it with the due date, and also stamp the “Date Due” slip in the book. You would hand write your name on the card next to the date. The librarian would keep the card, and hand you the book.

When the books were returned to the library, the card would be returned to the pocket, complete with scribbled names. We never really thought anything about it, and most of the scribbles were illegible, so unless you already knew who it was, half the time you wouldn’t be able to decipher the name enough to figure out who had borrowed the book before you. This was especially true if some grown-up had written their name on the card in cursive! Completely unreadable. Sigh. But I was too young to care, yet.

Late 1960s

Library Charge Card / Checkout Card in Pocket

Sometime during the 1960s, I was delighted that the library switched to some new-fangled high-technology system that made things easier for everyone. We all got new library cards that had raised block letters with our name and mailing address. When we checked out the book (“charged” the book), the librarian would run our library card through a machine that would press the card against some sort of tape and print our name and address onto the tape. The tape came in two parts, like carbon paper, but with a sticky layer in between, rather like “sticky notes” now. The sticky part of the carbon layer would be stuck to the card and kept by the librarians until the book was returned.

As before, the cards were returned to the books after being returned, complete with the sticky tabs. I loved this. I was in late middle school, but was reading in the adult section of the library. I always read the book’s card before checking the book out. I quickly noticed that certain people tended to be interested by the same books I liked. I found that some folk checked out books I liked, and others checked out books I didn’t enjoy. I often made a decision whether or not to check out a book based on whose name was on the card.

I also kind of liked having their addresses. There were a couple a young men, a year or two ahead of me in school, who were, um, interesting. I liked knowing their addresses, what part of town they lived in, and what sort of books they were reading. Now, we’d probably think of that as being vaguely stalker-ish, but then I simply thought of it as research. 😉 It never entered my mind that someone else could get the same information about me. I doubt I would have cared, though. I think at that age I would probably have been flattered. I was a scrawny, awkward, shy little thing. I would definitely have been flattered.


Library Charge Card / Checkout Card

Then the strips disappeared. Every now and then I’d find a date stamped on a card, but the cards were now empty. And we got yet another new high-tech library check out system. Hunh? What happened? I asked one of the librarians, who gritted her teeth and explained it to me.

Somewhere a disturbed young man had evidently set off some sort of bomb as a political protest of some sort. The bomb killed people. The young man was taken into custody. The authorities were researching the event, and everything to do with the young man. One of the ways in which they were researching him was going to his local library and asking for their records of everything he had ever checked out. This included such materials as The Anarchist’s Cookbook, which explained how to make bombs.

So far, so good, that all made sense. But the librarians immediately realized this had a huge potential impact that many people had not yet considered. It was almost as if they sensed the Patriot Act coming. These are public libraries. This is public information. They can’t deny information that they have to the proper authorities when requested with proper authorization. BUT. What if there was a police state, or a governmental agency that was in the business of watching private citizens, and then making decisions about whether or not they were dangerous? What if someone decided that EVERYONE who checked out The Anarchist’s Cookbook was a threat to the state, and should be rounded up? I had checked it out myself. I was a pre-pubescent girl at that point, but there was a lot of fuss about this book, and I was curious. Always curious. I checked it out, skimmed it, decided it was boring, and gave it back. I might find it more interesting now, since I am older and more aware of the importance it had as a symbolic pivot point in the shift towards a more transparent and open government, a key factor in the social and cultural dynamics of the 60s. But at that age, to me, it was boring. I was more interested in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Should I be taken in by the authorities because I checked it out? Should I go on a national “watch list”? Of course not. But what if?

That was one example, but it was because of those “what if”s that the entire national community of librarians had gotten together and devised new methods of charging books to patrons, of keeping records, or eliminating records. The new strategy was this. The FBI could ask for any records you had. If you didn’t have the records, they couldn’t ask for them. Therefore, libraries would not keep permanent records of patron borrowing habits. Yes, it meant, the libraries no longer had statistics and metrics that would allow them to personalize offerings for particular patrons. I could no longer PROVE that I had checked out every single book in the kids room. But the library profession had decided as a whole that it was more important for people to feel safe about borrowing library books without having to worry about whether Big Brother was watching.

Of course, now we have similar scenarios with Amazon, Google, Facebook, and such. All this information we are using online, linked to our personal identities or our computers, and the records kept in detail. But it isn’t the LIBRARIES who are keeping the records and giving them to federal agents, I assure you of that.

1990s to 2000s

Library Charge Card Ripped Out

What the librarian had explained to me about the FBI and library records was a conversation that kept coming up. It came up in grad school. It came up when I became a professional librarian, and patrons wanted to know WHY could I not tell them the name of that book they checked out 6 months ago or last year, and want to find again now? I’d explain the whole “Big Brother” idea, and they’d go away frustrated and irritated, but supportive at the same time. They thought this was perhaps making a mountain out of a molehill, but they weren’t so sure that they wanted me to change it.

Then came 9/11. Devastating, earth shattering, heart breaking 9/11. And on the heels of 9/11 came the Patriot Act. And the libraries were involved again in protecting the privacy, rights, and freedom to read and learn of all patrons. Librarians were involved deeply, and bitterly, and at risk of their own lives, safety, careers, and freedom.

Mother Jones: America’s Most Dangerous Librarians:

And it is still going on.

Patriot Act Extended for Four Years With No Change to ‘Library Records Provision’. By Michael Kelley May 27, 2011. http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/home/890795-264/patriot_act_extended_for_four.html.csp

Did you have any idea that librarians all around the United States of America have as part of their daily practice of their profession this dangerous balancing act? Any professionally aware librarian tracks this issue, the laws, the policies, the requirements. We read articles about anonymous librarians who have been “gagged.” We read articles about creative librarians who’ve come up with ways around the requirement of silence.

One of my favorites was a librarian who announces at every monthly board meeting, “There have been no legal requests for patron records.” Then, if she is ever asked, she will go silent, and the board will know. It happened. Many libraries emulated this once she thought of it, and there are libraries all around the country where we make forced silence obvious and evident by surrounding it with “sound” beforehand.


Hatcher Graduate Library

So, now we have this most interesting challenge to librarians’ freedom of speech happening in Canada. It reminds me a bit of the Third Reich and health care, where the doctors were required by law to report any “defective” children, so that they could be taken away from their families. The public version was that this would relieve the family of needing to devote time, energy, and resources to carrying for this child who is a burden on society. In reality, it didn’t matter if you wanted to keep your child or not, and chances are the child would die in the care of the state.

Here, the librarians (and support staff, volunteers, consultants, and anyone who works in any capacity in any Canadian federal library) are required to not talk, anywhere, to anyone, about anything, without the direct approval of their boss. The rules are pretty vague, in that you can’t talk in person, at a conference, as a teacher, in a blog, on Facebook or Twitter. The rules make it sound as if you better have a script written in advance, and you better not deviate. God help the student with a question in class, because you aren’t allowed to answer. The burden of informing the boss is borne by the employee. The penalties are borne by the employee. And it doesn’t stop when you leave your position. It’s horrifying. It’s ridiculous. It basically makes the entire role of being a librarian a joke. How can you be a librarian if you can’t answer reference questions without permission from your boss? Now I’m taking this to a silly extreme, because the guidelines lend themselves to such silliness.

But for me, looking back at the history I’ve observed in my own personal experience, I am willing to bet that somehow, the Canadian librarians will find whatever loophole exists in order to best serve their patrons, their profession, and their country, from the love of their hearts.