Monthly Archives: March 2018

Intellectual Freedom and Access to Information: Some Emerging Issues

In its internal structures, IFLA deals with copyright and other legal matters and freedom of access to information and freedom of expression through different committees. This does not mean that the two issues are not connected, or of course that the committees work in isolation. Indeed, the two work together on ongoing policy issues, and co-organise a session at World Library and Information Congresses.

The most recent such session – held in Wroclaw in August 2017 – focused on open access. This has an obvious importance from a freedom of access to information point of view – indeed, Article 27(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, underlines that ‘Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits’.

However, in recent weeks, there has been renewed attention on a number of lists and blogs about whether open access policies – and in particular an obligation on researchers receiving public funding to publish open access – are compatible with intellectual freedom. This blog raises four questions for libraries about the cross-over between issues relating to access to information, copyright and intellectual freedom.


Do Open Access Mandates Restrict Freedom to Publish?

This is a contentious topic at the moment. In Germany, a number of academics have challenged an open access mandate implemented by a regional government, arguing that this limited their choice of where to publish their works. Given that the career progression of researchers can depend on publishing in a journal with the best possible ‘impact factor’, it is understandable that in the short term, it is frustrating to have to publish in a journal that has a lower impact factor.

Nonetheless, others have questioned whether an obligation to publish open access is a restriction on academic freedom. A blog by Dr Danny Kingsley from Cambridge University’s Office for Scholarly Communications sets out the case against this argument. Others, such as Rick Anderson, have suggested that open access publishing limits the opportunity for an author to turn their works into (paid-for) books or other works in future.

  • Libraries have already expressed their support for open access, in particular for publicly funded research (Statement of 2011). What can we do to convince researchers of the value of open access?


Can We Have Freedom of Expression Without Freedom to Publish?

Arguably, no. Under the current dominant way of doing things, the publishing industry does invaluable work in supporting authors (i.e. through the advances that give them the time and freedom to write), and ensuring the quality that gets to the market. If publishers are subject to censorship, persecution or harassment, they are less able to fulfill this role.

The importance of freedom to publish has been highlighted by the success of the International Publishers Association’s Prix Voltaire, which honours publishers who have fought to defend this. Libraries have a strong interest in promoting freedom to publish, that this is a key factor in ensuring that libraries can acquire works for the benefit of their users. Keep an eye on the International Publishers Association website for details on when to nominate.

  • What can libraries do to support those who have the courage to exercise the freedom to publish in the face of restrictions and oppression?


Is Freedom to Publish the Same Thing as Intellectual Freedom?

Again, no. Intellectual freedom is broader. Freedom to publish is just one part – an essential part – of this broader freedom, in just the same way as formal publishing is just one form of expression.

For example, intellectual freedom relies on the possibility for quotation and criticism, without payments or requirements to seek permission over and above what is necessary to access a work in the first place. Nonetheless, only quotation is currently the subject of an obligatory limitation or exception to copyright under the Berne Convention, although not all countries or regions (such as the European Union) have implemented this properly. There is no obligation to allow for an exception for criticism, satire or parody – itself a serious concern.

Creators benefit from more flexible copyright exceptions and limitations. As the Authors’ Alliance has underlined, fair use – a flexible approach based on principles rather than rigid rules can empower writers. Clearly those who choose to live by their writing need to have the possibility to earn enough to do this. The need for a balance in copyright exceptions which both allows writers to exercise their rights, but then also have the possibility to be remunerated, is the goal.

  • How can libraries make the case for balanced exceptions and limitations as allowing both for intellectual freedom and enjoying the fruit of their work?


Electronic Access: Sacrificing Privacy for Convenience?

Intellectual freedom also depends on the confidence and safety of researchers. While the Internet and other digital tools have massively facilitated access to information, this is not without risks or costs.

In IFLA’s work on licensing, it has been clear that the shift to electronic resources has too often meant that exceptions and limitations to copyright in law have been made meaningless. In addition, electronic access makes it much easier to track user behaviour. As IFLA’s 2015 Statement on Privacy in the Library Environment underlines, excessive data collection can have a chilling effect on society. The challenge then is what constitutes ‘excessive’.

Will a potential shift to giving access to academic literature by individual user, rather than by IP address, mean that researchers can no longer benefit from privacy in what sources and works they are consulting (see this this piece by Lisa Hinchliffe, and this by Aaron Tay for more)? The same applies to potential obligations to use rightholder APIs to undertake text and data mining, rather than being able to use their own (see IFLA’s position on TDM in the ongoing EU copyright reforms). In both cases, the potential to build up a profile of the behaviour researchers grows, and with it the risks to privacy.

  • How can libraries understand the challenges posed to researcher privacy, and act to educate and protect their users?


One blog is certainly not enough to get into any depth on these points. But with discussions current on all of these themes, there is certainly plenty of cross-over where further reflection is valuable.

Responding to Cambridge Analytica – The Role of Libraries

Recent stories about the activities – the misdeeds – of Cambridge Analytica have provided an illustration of the power of information.

It is true that digital technologies and techniques allowing the ‘mining’ of data have opened up unprecedented opportunities to gain understanding of our environment, and ourselves. Just as it has turbo-charged scientific research, it has also benefited market research, thanks to new possibilities to collect and use information.

It is a further reminder that technology is usually neutral in and of itself – it is what we do with it that defines whether its impact is positive or negative. We need mature approaches. Libraries, given their long experience in working with information and helping users make it work for them, have a lot to contribute.

Sadly, it has also provided an excuse to bring out old and lazy arguments implying that we should turn back the clock on technological change, or at least stop it,  regardless of the costs to innovation and progress.

In the case of an event at the European Parliament this week, Cambridge Analytica was brought out as a reason to make text and data mining activities conditional on using publisher APIs and subject to additional payments. The argument goes that text and data mining is dangerous, and so should remain under the control or supervision of rightholders, even where a user already has access.

However, this position is both paternalistic and regressive.

Paternalistic in that it presumes that rightholders should be able to supervise what analysis users are carrying out legally. And regressive in that it makes the ability to undertake research dependent on the ability to pay additional fees, over and above the initial costs of access.

Cambridge Analytica, in the present case, seems to have benefitted from data collection rules that were both loosely drafted and loosely applied. But with a business model based on the collection and use of data, and provision of services for wealthy clients, the company would be first in line to make the necessary additional payments under the model proposed in the European Parliament event. In this, they would be joined by other major ICT or pharmaceutical companies with the bank balances to support this. And in the case of Cambridge Analytica, the primary beneficiary of any additional payments would likely have been Facebook.

Such a step would exclude smaller firms and university spin-offs, as well as data journalists and individuals. A good result in the short term for publishing companies (and Facebook), but highly negative for innovation and progress.

A mature response to the issues raised by Cambridge Analytica would include the following:

  1. Privacy rules must be respected. This applies as much in the use of social media platforms as in publishing platforms where the collection of data about who and how is reading works is an increasingly central piece of business models in the sector.
  2. Users must be able to take conscious and reasoned decisions about what information they want to share. This requires education about how the Internet works, not just in school but also throughout life.
  3. Clear permission for anyone with legitimate access to data (respecting privacy laws, and with payment where appropriate) to carry out text and data mining, in order both to advance research, and permit the sort of data journalism that has allowed other recent scandals to be revealed.

Libraries have a role in all of these. In negotiating contracts with service suppliers, they can be attentive to privacy implications, and ensure maximum protection of users’ data. Libraries are already active in many places in teaching users about the operation of the Internet, and how to keep personal information safe. And they are currently arguing, in Europe and elsewhere, for a simple exception to copyright for text and data mining that will allow new ideas and innovations to rise up.

Read IFLA’s statement on privacy in the library environment,  and its position on text and data mining in the draft Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. You can follow what IFLA and its partners are doing on the EU reforms here.

Half Way There: Tim Berners-Lee Highlights Public Access as Key to Getting Everyone Online

Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Sir Tim Berners-Lee Quote (adapted from photo by Paul Clarke, CC-BY-SA 4.0

On 12 March, the World Wide Web turned 29. Rather than a birthday card, its father, Tim Berners-Lee, wrote a letter to the world, setting out his hopes, and his concerns for his creation.


Clearly on the positive side, this has been the year that the share of the world’s population using the Internet passed 50% for the first time. Given a rising population, this is not insignificant.


But Sir Tim highlighted worries also. The dominance of a number of platforms, he suggests, will not work in favour of innovation. Yet when it comes to dealing with criminal activity online – or greyer areas such as deliberate misinformation (fake news) – they are often the only ones with the capacity to act.


He makes two points which will be welcome for libraries – about the importance of public access, and the importance of a Web that works for everyone.


The Other Half


Compared to the spread of postal services, aviation or telephones, the spread of the Internet has been very quick. To go from zero to nearly 4 billion people in less than 30 years is more than spectacular.


Yet as digital technologies become more and more central in the production of – and access to – information, knowledge, and culture, the costs of being on the wrong side of the digital divide grow.


Sir Tim recognises this, and calls for urgent action to bring the remaining 4 billion online. In this, he highlights the importance of public access.


This is a key strength of libraries, and increasingly a core part of their overall mission to provide access to information.


Public access (as opposed to home, ‘private’ access) can provide a stepping stone for those who cannot (yet) afford their own device or subscription. It may be the thing that allows them to get a job, or develop the business idea, that allows them to pay for home access in future.


But even in societies with widespread connectivity already, public access is a complement to private access. Those sharing a computer with family members may not want to look up certain information, if this is likely to lead to certain search results or adverts showing up later. People may also prefer social access – going online with friends or peers.


Finally, public access is there for those who, by choice or necessity, will never have their own connection. Any government serious about guaranteeing the rights of all of its citizens must bear this in mind.


Libraries provide public access – and often the hardware necessary to enjoy it – in a safe and welcoming environment, often integrated with other valued services. For precisely those groups most likely to be offline – minorities, women, the less well-off, they are essential.


The Web We Want


Sir Tim highlights his desire to ensure that a broader range of stakeholders – including of course the Internet’s users – have a say in where his creation goes.


He calls for ambition, both around the operation of platforms, and the idea that advertising alone can power the Internet.


IFLA itself has set outs its overall vision for the Internet in its Manifesto, first in 2002, and with an update in 2014. Libraries clearly recognise the important role platforms play – and their need to be shielded from unreasonable liability for the actions of their users.


Similarly, they should not be left – or required – to regulate the Web, as set out in both the Statement on the Right to be Forgotten (2016), and IFLA’s submission to the Human Rights Council on digital content regulation (2017).


But there is a third element – giving people the skills they need to take a critical – and proactive approach to the Internet. For IFLA, this not only provides an answer to many of the fears around fake news, but allows users to get the most out of the web.


Moreover, in response to Sir Tim’s concern that people need to want to connect, more skilled users will be able, in turn, to create their own content and services, relevant to themselves and their communities.



So, Happy Birthday to the World Wide Web. Next year’s a big birthday, and, we hope, an opportunity to celebrate successes in developing a more universal, more inclusive Internet.


[Correction , 14 March 2018 – we incorrectly referred to 12 March as the birthday of the Internet. It is rather the birthday of the World Wide Web. We have corrected this in the first and last paragraphs of this post)

Because Information Should Bridge, not Deepen, the Gender Divide

Poster outside the Weston Library, Oxford, UK

The digital gender divide globally is widening. This was perhaps one of the most startling findings of the Development and Access to Information (DA2I) report, launched last July by IFLA in partnership with the Technology and Social Change Group at the University of Washington.


This is not to say that fewer and fewer women are connected – just that the share using the Internet is rising slower than men. But it is serious, given that more and more, Internet access is not just an nice extra, but a precondition for taking part in the life of the community. Those without are increasingly condemned to information poverty. Every woman who remains offline risks going backwards.


As set out in the DA2I report, information poverty impacts women in a number of ways.


Economically, access to information makes it possible to find work – or to create your own. When the National Library of Uganda established links with groups of women farmers in rural areas, it provided vital information about agricultural markets and techniques. It empowered them to earn, to support their families, and to build a more sustainable future.


Socially, access opens up new means of communication. For mothers in the Philippines looking to stay in contact with their families abroad, the possibility to connect makes a major difference to quality of life.


Politically, information is vital to take part in decision-making. Without it, women cannot engage, and so influence the laws that govern them. When their voice is heard, gender equity can be pursued, and women-friendly laws implemented.


Legally, a recent report from UN Women highlighted that women’s rights are meaningless unless they have information about them. For migrant women workers in Hong Kong, this has proved essential in improving their living and working standards.


And personally, access to information can provide a means of tackling the health challenges that can blight women’s lives, leading to unnecessary suffering. The WHO’s Blue Trunk Libraries, drawing on the fact that libraries are seen as a safe, welcoming place for women, is making a real difference to women’s wellbeing.



Access to information offers a sustainable, person-centred response to many of the development challenges we face. By ensuring that women have it, in a meaningful way, we will make a major step on the road to gender equality.

Better physical places through smarter digital spaces: Day 0 of the Regional Forum on Sustainable Development

Sculpture at UN Headquarters, Geneva

UN Headquarters, Geneva

It’s begun! The UNECE Regional Forum on Sustainable Development is the first in a series of five, focusing both on delivering the 2030 Agenda at the regional level, and preparing for 2018’s High Level Political Forum.


It’s an opportunity for the key people involved in coordinating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from governments across Europe to come together and discuss how they are moving forwards. And it’s a chance for civil society organisations to build contacts and influence the message they will send to New York in July. IFLA is there.


Sustainable Communities, Included Citizens, and Access to Information

Day 0 focused on information-sharing, and creating statements to be delivered on behalf of all civil society in front of ministers the following day.


For libraries, 2018 is an important year, given that SDG 11 – sustainable communities and cities – is on the agenda. This SDG is clearly a priority for many other civil society organisations too, given how many joined the group working on the relevant statement.


Despite the potentially different focus of the representatives there – housing, older persons, youth, open government – there were two key points of consensus.


Firstly that sustainable cities depend on the wellbeing and inclusion of all citizens.


And secondly that for these citizens to be included, information plays an essential role, both in terms of getting and using statistics that help identify who may be falling behind, and in ensuring that everyone has access to information, technology and skills.


A great opportunity to talk about the work of libraries in empowering all members of societies – especially the least well-off – through information! IFLA highlighted that public services – and libraries in particular – remained essential if we are to leave no-one behind, and that without their support, new digital technologies would not necessarily serve the wellbeing of all of the community.


We’re looking forward to talking more with delegates today and tomorrow about how libraries can make the difference.


Reviewing the Reviewers: Updates on 2018 Voluntary National Reports


Setting goals is meaningless unless there’s a way of checking on implementation. One tool for this included in the 2030 Agenda is Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), where Member States present a report on the progress they are making in front of their peers at the High Level Political Forum. The Regional Meetings are a chance to update on progress on these.


The civil society event brought together a number of NGOs already engaged in the VNR process. As the name suggests, these are voluntary, meaning that governments have a lot of space to work out how they are done. This was clear in the input from these NGOs. Some countries have formal platforms, giving civil society the opportunity to share views and meet with ministers and senior officials. Others take VNRs as an opportunity to advertise themselves.


We’re working with IFLA members in countries which are undertaking VNRs this year to understand how far they are involved, and to offer support and advice where we can. At their best, this can be a great way to get libraries higher up the agenda, and to celebrate how our institutions are making a difference.


More tomorrow from the first day of the formal meeting!