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Since Wikipedia went black last night, I've been trying to find a way to articulate my particular concerns about SOPA/PIPA. As an educator who teaches fair citation practices and information literacy competence as a basic part of introductory research methods in the University, my concern naturally did not gravitate toward Wiki -- the great bane of so many Professors -- but rather to the potential for SOPA/PIPA to staunch the flow of educational materials, period.

This could, in turn, hurt students, students who are already angry and protesting nationwide about the decline in public education and access, particularly in higher education.

And it could hurt them through library censorship and by prohibiting the free flow of ideas which libraries operate through.  

So I suppose it was the de facto "librarian" in me which recoiled immediately at the implications of such a nebulous proposal, one which nonetheless smacked of far-reaching harm to students, already saddled with outrageous tuition hikes, student loans, and occasionally, a vicious round of pepper spray or three. When exactly is enough enough?

In the modern parlance today, libraries mean far, far more than simply stacks of books. Not to lament books in any way; as a stone-cold bibliophile, I would be the first person to advocate for the rapturous smell and sultry heft of a text in hand.

But libraries are not "books." They are epicenters where all knowledge amasses to create a whole that is greater than its parts will ever be. Databases collide with pages in elaborate networks of multimedia which students and scholars and anyone with an interest in anything at all can tap into, can connect with, can become one with.

I read this:

The American Library Association and Library Copyright Alliance have also expressed worries about the legislation, predicting it could leave libraries vulnerable to copyright liability, threaten privacy and erode free speech.

Sarah Houghton, acting director of the San Rafael Public Library and author of the "Librarian in Black" blog, said many librarians are also concerned about access to online databases and electronic books. Patrons generally submit their library identification number and PIN to access those materials and the library verifies that data before passing it on to a third party, she said.

"The way that most libraries do that could be considered in violation of both SOPA and PIPA," Houghton said. "It's a very vague way that they define a lot of this 'naughty' behavior. As a result it would be very easy for us as libraries to violate it without even intending to.

"Anything that blocks the legal sharing of information is bad to libraries, and the way that the bills are written, because they are so vague, could very easily block the legal sharing of information," she added.

EBooks. Imperiled. Databases. Scrutinized. Education. Paralyzed and stymied even more than it already is. In case it wasn't sufficient to simply unleash mass chemical warfare on students under fire, we now risk denying them knowledge. That is absolute violence upon our citizenry. We risk tossing ourselves into the dark ages once more, and more so, ramping up the old class war yet harder by ensuring that libraries return to sanctuaries for the elite who can afford to vet which censored, denuded, and impotent knowledge might darken its ancient doorway.

There are a million reasons to oppose SOPA and PIPA; perhaps the Democrats haven't caught on to this yet, but if they support public education and a knowledgeable, informed citizenry engaged in a global exchange of ideas, they need to realize that it is not only physical trade or copyright which is problematic under these provisions. They need to recognize that ideas themselves are a form of intellectual trade.

And this kind of trade cannot be copyrighted. In fact, knowledge-piracy is one of the greatest things which our civilization could engage in, for all knowledge is a form of collaboration, of texts built on the backs of other texts, thought built on the foundation of previous thought.

To limit this flow is to limit the possibility for knowledge itself.

Universities themselves are founded on these premises.

Ben Franklin would be rolling in his grave.

Is that what we are now willing to accept?

I am not willing.

I refuse.

Please write to your Senator and Representatives, no matter how much they seem to not be listening. Tell them they are assaulting libraries. Tell them they are participating in the destruction of education, en masse. Tell them that this may be a war between Silicon-Valley and Hollywood donors, but ultimately, students will be caught in the crossfire. And they will have to answer to that.

Because the Internet generation is not partisan. This is an election season and should the Democratic Party wish to see turnout in the youth vote, they don't do that by pissing off 4chan, Wiki, and Icanhazcheesburger (no joke). It is the Republicans' role to wage war on education. That's hardly a role that Democrats ought assume, election year or otherwise.

If your Senators and Representatives emails are down, as mine was, try phoning. If the phone is down, try faxing. If that's backed up, send them a postcard. If they want to send us back in time, we might as well use stamps.

The more literacy, the merrier, right?

I'd listen to the librarians on this one.

Originally posted to ...a teapot in a tempest... on Wed Jan 18, 2012 at 04:37 PM PST.

Also republished by Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I know that libraries aren't the sexiest topics (13+ / 0-)

    to interject into the SOPA/PIPA debate, but I hadn't seen this well addressed, and I have such a terrible fear about the potential for databases and other educational channels to be impacted.

    Fair use states that we can use all sorts of stuff for educational purposes. We do all the time. Students benefit from it. Period.

    I see this as part of a serious problem that hasn't been fully addressed and was not surprised to find that article about librarians opposing it.

  •  Hey baby!!! I have to say that I was stunned and (10+ / 0-)

    amazed when I looked on the list of Senators that voted YES on SOPA/PIPA and found that both Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand did, indeed, vote yes. I was especially shocked that she did because her voting record has exceeded my wildest dreams for her. She has been an excellent Senator but this boggles the mind.

    I called and em'd both Senators and my Rep. The story now
    is that they are not taking a position until they see what the next iteration of the bill is. My position is that there can be no "good" iteration of this legislation. It sucks.

    Very nice diary. I hope a lot of people see it because it highlights an area of concern that I don't think many people are even thinking about. Education should be the most important reason that this latest crazy idea out of the Congress HAS to be stopped in its tracks.  


    "Southern nights have you ever felt a southern night?" Allen Toussaint ~~Remember the Gulf of Mexico~~

    by rubyr on Wed Jan 18, 2012 at 04:51:23 PM PST

  •  hi mahakali (7+ / 0-)

    Great diary. Especially like this:

    But libraries are not "books." They are epicenters where all knowledge amasses to create a whole the is greater than its parts will ever be.

    Very true. And I love libraries.

    "Deaf: (n) 1. a particular group of people who share a beautiful language: ASL. 2. a term measured by culture and attitude, not by an audiogram." author unknown

    by raina on Wed Jan 18, 2012 at 05:05:06 PM PST

  •  I finally gave in and am sort of using a Kindle... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mahakali overdrive, rubyr, raina

    after my mom purchased one, but there really isn't anything quite like having a book in your hands.  That you're definitely right about, and, if your diary said only that I would rec it for that alone.

    Of course, everything else you say is even more important, something I know from my law school days, where research was taken for granted and the big question was Lexis or Westlaw.  Personally, I was a Lexis person.

    Here is what we do have to remember though.  Even if SOPA or something of the like would happen, we know that information would find a way out.  That is the beauty of the internet.  It'll be more difficult, but it'll still happen in some way, shape or form.  The disappointing part is that it won't be as widely available as it should be.

    Preserve sanity in our government. Re-elect and strengthen and recapture. Proud to be a Democrat!

    by Mets102 on Wed Jan 18, 2012 at 05:26:33 PM PST

    •  Spot on there about information (4+ / 0-)

      It will always creep out. It always has. I think of someone like Bakhtin writing in Russia, not really discovered until 30 years after WWII. The thing is that there is no reason for our Society to go that direction. Why would we choose that for ourselves? It's completely regressive. Sure, we had the card catalog when I went to College. And to get an article, you had to send away for it and wait weeks. It made scholarship creaky. And it made it for the wealthier, let's face it... nowadays, we want more access for more people. Students are more diverse, ethnically and in terms of class, than they once were.

      I have massive reservations about the Net in general. But in regard to education? Never. I use databases pretty much daily for research myself. How did I not know you'd been to law school?

      My son just got a Kindle. I don't personally use them, but he's reading more, so I am happy about that. Like REALLY happy.

  •  I thought this pertained to ISP. Someone explain (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mahakali overdrive

    how libraries are other effected other than the sites themselves being blocked to then and everyone.  

    Rick Perry is George Bush without brains.

    by thestructureguy on Wed Jan 18, 2012 at 06:27:47 PM PST

    •  A great question (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The run-down from the librarian in the piece was pretty good, however, it could be much more in depth.

      Basically, educators and librarians regularly create sites and databases solely for educational purposes, which is considered fair use. In these sites, we might link to all manner of things: articles, websites, encyclopedia entries, photographs, videos, advertisements. All kinds of stuff which is used to teach students.

      SOPA would easily stop that type of use. Frankly, it could outright censor the material educators and libraries can provide to students. This is especially worrisome in Higher Ed where course design is at the discretion of individual instructors. It could also, of course, be a problem in the lower schools.

      Here are some more quotes that hopefully explain this issue:

      From the EFF, who are the most knowledgeable group, IMHO, about online laws --


      Big media groups like the MPAA and the RIAA have historically targeted college campuses with “anti-piracy” measures, and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) — the blacklist bill they’re trying to push through Congress — is no exception. The bill’s supporters insist that it targets only “rogue” foreign sites dedicated to piracy, but its vague language and overbroad enforcement methods all but ensure it could be used to stifle student and educator speech.

      Open educational resources

      Some sites with reason to be particularly concerned are international communities dedicated to “open educational resources” (OERs), which are created to be shared, built upon, and used in education. Sites like the Japan Opencourseware Consortium or Universia, which offer resources from more than 1,000 universities and represents over 10 million students, could fall into this category. In the past decade, these resources have become increasingly popular across the world, aided by the dropping cost of digital distribution and the availability of technologies and platforms for hosting and sharing. SOPA could reverse those changes by placing prohibitive liability burdens on sites that offer these resources and the platforms that enable them.


      They’re not alone. Libraries represent another educational group that could face fallout from SOPA. The Library Copyright Alliance, a group whose members include the American Library Association and two other major library organizations, has also written a letter to the House of Representatives raising major issues with the bill.

      Alarmingly, the librarians point to “three pending copyright infringement lawsuits against universities and their libraries relating to their use of digital technology,” reflecting “a growing tension between rights holders and libraries, and some rights holders’ increasingly belligerent enforcement mentality.” That same enforcement mentality, under SOPA, could lead to criminal prosecutions of libraries, even for activities that are a fair use and conducted without the intention of commercial gain.

      The EFF wrote this letter about how SOPA could "chill" educational access by limiting content (pdf warning):


      The ALA (American Library Associaton) is currently participating in a partial blackout as well:

      Here is a copy of the letter (which is quite dry and a bit arcane) which they wrote to Congress (pdf warning):

      The United States Student Association has also stated opposition to SOPA/PIPA.

      Numerous other library groups and educational groups have as well.

      The media has largely focused on the Corporate aspect of this, however, these is a neglected angle for why this should be absolutely opposed by pro-education legislators, particularly Democrats. It can, as my diary attempts to explain, potentially limit access to educational material for Universities facing hard economic times, which only disbenefits the quality of student educational access/resources.

  •  i wonder if something like jstor could get nailed (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mahakali overdrive

    by one of those insatiably avaricious journal publishing houses buying up everything in sight and charging exorbitant rates.

    •  Exactly though not sure which db's (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wu ming

      Imagine. One instance of plagiarism wends its way into an academic journal or one copyright item winds up in a database accidentally. Listserv much? Grounds for a lawsuit. I am not even going to get started on the sites instructors make here: what "fair use" is academically is incredibly specious. If I link to it, it's okay? If I repost a .pdf that someone else uploaded of copyright material without my knowing it is, the University would be liable? What if I republish it in a course reader which is for sale?

      Which is, of course, absolutely encouraged by Universities since everyone is trying to cut costs for students. We're "instructed" to keep book costs down or risk penalties.

      There are so many bad possibilities here. I don't know which have, and have not, been addressed in detail but do know that these are all such contested categories AND that the ALA and EFF, and so many educational groups, are like "NO!"

      Which makes me wonder WTF with the support. This is massive oversight.

      •  I mean of course, if I link to it (0+ / 0-)

        and the Uni is hosting it. As they so often do. And if not, am I the one footing the bill?

        I use copyright material all the time in teaching. Who, in most Departments, doesn't? It's considered fair use generally. I think that's under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, but can't recall. It's legal, but occasionally contested, at any rate. Like how you can't copy a book at some Kinko's... but can copy a whole book at the school library or make and upload a .pdf to an educational site or opensource database.

      •  yeah, pretty much every class reader (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mahakali overdrive

        would be in violation, but that's the only way you deal with articles and passages and primary sources, instead of monographs or textbooks.

        then again, these bastards hate the humanities anyways, so thank goodness this atrocity of a bill hits some big guns in silicon valley ion the pocketbook, or we'd be hopelessly hosed.

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