Monthly Archives: September 2018

Benefits for the Many, Support from the Few: Why Everyone Should Support Access to Information

IDUAI 2018

In 2019, the United Nations will launch a review of the whole 2030 Agenda. While it is still unclear where the focus of this will be, it’s a useful opportunity to look back across the Sustainable Development Goals, and the process in place for monitoring their implementation.

What’s clear is the progress that the Agenda has brought. On 25 September 2015, governments agreed to taking a truly holistic approach to development. They recognised that progress in any one area is dependent on progress elsewhere, and that there are cross-cutting themes.

The implication is that governments need to be thinking about certain issues across their work. In effect, these need to be ‘mainstreamed’ – taken into account in everything else they do.

Such themes include questions like equality or sustainability. To give the example of education, governments should be thinking about how to ensure that all children have access to quality schooling, regardless of their background. They should be teaching children about how to live sustainably, and giving them the skills to get ‘green’ jobs in future.


Access is Everywhere…

Access to information is another key example of a theme that needs to be taken into account across the work of governments. It is not only included explicitly in SDG 16.10, but appears in nearly 20 other SDG targets. Indeed, there are few policy areas where access to information does not contribute to equity and effectiveness.

To take just a few examples, SDG 2.3 underlines the need for small farmers to have access to knowledge, while 2c calls for access to market information. In other words, we will only get to ‘zero hunger’ with access to information.

Under SDG3 (good health and wellbeing), target 3.4 mentions the need to prevent disease (in which information is essential), and 3.7 clearly talks about the need for information and education around reproductive health.

Target 5b stresses that women need to be able to access and use information technologies, and target 13.3 places an emphasis on education and awareness raising around climate change.

As IFLA has underlined a number of times, this represents an affirmation of libraries, and of the meaningful access to information that they provide. By offering a welcoming, public space, with dedicated staff and access to resources, libraries are an ideal tool for achieving progress across the board.

With access to information mainstreamed across the Agenda, libraries truly are partners for development.  The Development and Access to Information report, produced by IFLA in partnership with the Technology and Social Change Group at the University of Washington, offers further examples.


But Risks Being No-Where

Yet mainstreaming comes with challenges, not least in the case of access to information.

Because when everyone benefits, no single ministry or agency takes responsibility for it. There is no single source of funding to make sure it happens.

It risks being seen as a secondary priority compared to other things, less urgent, less necessary.

This can be a problem in the case of libraries, which need adequate support to be able to function effectively. Almost all ministries in governments benefit from their work – education, health, agriculture, economy, innovation, and of course culture – but it is often only one that carries the costs of running them.

This creates a collective action problem, where the fact that the costs and benefits do not fall in the same place may mean that a policy or institution – in this case access to information and libraries – do not receive the funding they need.

To some extent, local governments – which often have responsibilities across a number of policy areas – are able to solve this. Yet even there, it is often agencies and ministries at the national or regional level who will get the credit for improvements in health or employment, for example.

Without a strong central commitment, or strong coordination, library funding, and so access to information, is at risk.


Much of IFLA’s advocacy around access to information – at all levels – aims to ensure that governments at all levels recognise the value of libraries and the access they provide, and give this the support they need.

This support should come from all parts of government that benefit. It may be fantasy to expect that governments should pool resources dedicated to access to information in order to support libraries. However, we should expect political and moral support at least.

IFLA’s advocacy, both at the national and the global levels, is there to remind them.

Of Nuts and Sledgehammers: Why MEPs Should Choose their Tools Wisely in Copyright Reform

Graphic for sledgehammers and nutsThe European Parliament’s vote on the draft copyright directive next Wednesday is likely to be the last chance for transparent discussion on the substance of a reform that has been years in the making. It is also a last chance for libraries to reach out to and influence Members of the European Parliament.

A key message will be that European law-makers must choose wisely, and ensure that they are creating rules that are targeted, proportionate, and respect the public interest.

The Draft Copyright Directive

The last wide-ranging piece of EU copyright legislation dates to 2001. Since then, we have seen new technologies and expectations from users, dramatic evolutions in the market for music and media, and an explosion in the amount of copyrighted material produced every day online.

The draft Directive seeks to take stock of these changes, addressing questions around text and data mining, digital education, preservation, use of works which are no longer on sale, rights of press publishers and the obligations of content-sharing platforms, amongst other issues.

The debate has been intense, with a particular focus on Google and YouTube. It has, often, come across as a dramatic struggle between big technology companies and creators.

The problem with this approach is that tends to lead to dramatic solutions – sledgehammers to crack nuts. This blog illustrates just two areas where such dramatic solutions are being proposed, and the harm that they risk doing to libraries and their users.


Repositories are not YouTube

Perhaps the most contentious part of the Directive has been Article 13, which deals with the responsibility of content-sharing platforms to remove copyright-infringing materials uploaded by users.

While this covers commercial operations such as YouTube, other sites, such as educational and scientific repositories run by libraries and others also help people share their work. As such, they risk falling under the same rules.

For example, scientific repositories are a vital part of the infrastructure for open access. They host copies of research articles – often pre-print (i.e. not final) versions – allowing people who aren’t registered at the wealthiest universities or research institutions to have access. For doctors, individual researchers, and people in developing countries, this can be essential.

Educational repositories play a major role in spreading Open Educational Resources (OERs). These offer exciting possibilities for teachers to find and use materials which may be better tailored to their needs than traditional textbooks.

The repositories that host these materials are clearly working in the public interest, and are often hosted by libraries, education or research institutions. As concerns their size, resources, and objectives, they have little in common with YouTube.

However, the draft Directive risks treating them in the same way, placing the same regulations and responsibilities upon them. While YouTube can deal with this, it is hard to imagine repositories working on small budgets, and a strong aversion to legal risk, doing the same. See our blog on the risks around Article 13 and filtering for more.


Libraries are not Pirates

The desire to fight piracy of copyrighted content extends beyond Article 13. Elsewhere in the directive, organisations representing certain rightholders have made major efforts to impose restrictions on what libraries can do, claiming that this will help limit infringement.

For example, proposals on text and data mining (TDM) could make it very easy to restrict access to materials on the grounds of security, or force researchers to delete the datasets they create as part of the process. Such steps would create a major disincentive to invest time and effort in TDM.

Why do so when access to materials is uncertain, when the work that goes into structuring data will be lost, and when others will not be able to verify the results? Libraries already take care to respect copyright, and do not need further restrictions.

Similarly, there have been major efforts to prevent libraries from taking preservation copies of works held on third-party servers. In a digital world, this is the case for a growing share of what libraries offer their users. Excluding these eBooks, articles and other materials undermines a core mission of libraries, and increases the risk that these works in question being lost in future.

Finally, an amendment proposed to Article 6 of the directive would stop libraries using more than one exception at once. In practical terms, libraries would have to choose between taking a preservation copy of a work, carrying out text and data mining on it, or using it for teaching.

This would be a bizarre situation, with libraries forced to select which of their public interest missions they want to fulfil with works in their collections. It is also unnecessary, as whatever libraries do is still governed by copyright law, and in particular the obligation not to cause unjustified prejudice to rightholders. Libraries should not be forced to choose.


There are other areas where misguided rule-making risks doing more harm than good. Indeed, there is a strong argument that it is competition law, not copyright, that provides the best response to the market dominance of just a few major platforms.

While we will have to wait to see if Europe’s competition authorities act in this area. In the meanwhile – and particularly next Wednesday, it will be important to ensure that European law-makers choose their tools wisely.

Unsafe, Untrue, Unhinged? Libraries, Internet Platforms and Difficult Content

The ongoing discussion over how Internet platforms should deal with Alex Jones has provided a test-case for how Internet platforms should approach the question of ‘fake news’.

Alex Jones – described alternatively as a performance artist and a conspiracy theorist, amongst other things – is known for making unsubstantiated claims.

He (or at least the persona he presents) is firmly right-leaning, in the American context. This of course makes the whole debate more complicated. In polarised times, dismissing Jones as ‘fake news’ only leads to accusations of left-wing bias from his supporters.

Jones also tests the boundaries between extreme speech and dangerous speech.

This is a critical line – extreme speech may be uncomfortable, but is also part of the deal with freedom of expression. Calls for universal suffrage or religious freedom were also considered to be extreme speech for much of history.

This has placed Internet platforms in a difficult position. They are, at their core, profit-making companies – or at least aim to be – and have come across as uncomfortable in having to take these sorts of decisions.

They were never likely to find it easy. In addition to the fundamental difficulty of moderating billions of people, they are bigger – and richer – than Jones, and a familiar target for commentators. Moreover, it seems likely that criticism is not something that matters much to Jones, making him a less interesting objective.

Some moved quickly to ban him once the pressure grew, such as YouTube and Facebook, although of course this was after years of posts. Twitter hesitated, with CEO Jack Dorsey admitting that they really didn’t have a simple response to the fake news issue.

And others, such as Google, have not banned him, but rather down-graded Jones’ ‘news’ to make it far less visible among the other information sources out there.


These are all questions that are relevant for libraries. Our institutions are strong defenders of freedom of access to information and freedom of expression, but acknowledge that this is not an absolute freedom, not least when it leads to limitations on the rights of others.

For example, in its statement on the Right to Be Forgotten, IFLA underlines that there is a balance to be found between the right of access to information, and the right of individuals to ensure that information that is untrue or unfairly damaging is not given prominent in Internet searches.

Crucially, these sorts of decisions are a question of professional judgement. What may work in one context does not necessarily in another. Moreover, and as the current discussion underlines, extreme views are a key part of public political debate, and there is an obligation to record them for posterity.

The sorts of decisions Internet platforms are trying to take now are not far removed from the decisions made regularly in libraries. The way they do it is crucial. Restrictions – as the word implies – restrict the scope of debate that can make up the historical record.

While mimicking the work of libraries in helping people to find the information they need, they risk pre-empting thes individual decisions taken by librarians and users individuals. They do this in a way that is not necessarily transparent or sensitive to the situations of different users either, encouraging suspicion. They cannot be asked, or challenged about this. And of course are trying to do so at a scale never attempted before.

Jack Dorsey’s hesitation is perhaps welcome – an admission that easy solutions are mistaken. The need for libraries, and the skills and values of librarians, is as strong as ever.