Author Spotlight: Michelle Wu

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Check out our recent Q&A with author Michelle Wu as we discuss her title Rebalancing Copyright: Considering Technology’s Impact on Libraries and the Public Interest.

Order this title by March 1, 2023 and save $10.00!

About the Author

Michelle M. Wu is a retired law library director, associate dean and professor of law, having worked at The George Washington University, the University of Houston, Hofstra University, and Georgetown law schools in the 25 years prior to leaving academia. She’s currently focused on philanthropic innovation and advocacy efforts aimed at narrowing inequality divides, though she remains involved in policy issues related to libraries and copyright.

Q&A with Michelle M. Wu

Copyright has always been a tug-a-war between two interests – that of the author and that of the public. But until recently, the fight was more-or-less balanced because of the format of a book; once a book was published, it was virtually impossible for authors or publishers to suppress it, modify it, or prevent downstream uses, such as libraries using it in lending, ILL, and other long-established public purposes.

Since the advent of the digital form, though, copyright has been on a troubling trajectory of curtailing access. Libraries are affected by these changes in a unique way that impacts all of society, and I hadn’t seen much scholarship discussing why libraries’ role in copyright was essential to a healthy nation and how copyright’s recent turn hurt all communities. This book was an effort to lay the groundwork for such discussions.

No one book could cover either topic comprehensively, as evidenced by multi-volume treatises on copyright and any number of monographs on libraries. This book intends only to summarize at the broadest levels the history of copyright, the role of libraries, problematic language in copyright statutes, current conflicts (e.g., licensing), and potential solutions (e.g., restoration of copyright formalities). For that reason, the footnotes and references are provided not only to support any statement made but also to help anyone wanting to dig deeper into any particular aspect to do so easily.
That it will likely take longer to rebalance copyright than it took to unbalance it, and that it will take libraries, other public facing industries, and governments working together to do it. Libraries cannot afford to be silent or absent from the effort. Why?

First, unfortunately, market forces can encourage as well as discourage disinformation, differential pricing, high paywalls, and eliminating paths to long-standing fair uses. And current laws are ill-equipped to defend against technological tools designed to upset the balance of copyright, the ones that enable end-runs around first sale, fair use, and §108 library activities. In other words, there are no natural protections against efforts to reduce information access. Digital texts, controlled through licensing and DRM, books can be modified, retracted, and removed unilaterally. Ownership is being replaced by licensing, eliminating second-hand sales and donations, restricting ILL and preservation activities. While (non-textbook) publishers with primarily academic customers have made efforts to preserve the balance of copyright, this is less common elsewhere. This unbalancing of copyright is costly to society, particularly for the poor living in communities with poorly-funded libraries.

Second, the fact is that no publisher, author, or reader has the obligation to society that libraries do: to protect access to and preservation of information. For that reason, libraries offer a unique perspective on library content services beneficial to society and why digital content with rights no lesser than what they had with print is necessary to retain those benefits in technological eras. Without libraries actively engaging in legislation and innovation for the public interest, protections for their unique societal role may well disappear.

No. I retired with the intention of devoting time to trying to narrow the inequity divides in society, and copyright’s impact on libraries fits neatly into that goal. Efforts such as controlled digital lending, e-book legislation at the state level, digital ownership, and censorship are all highly relevant to equity. So, while libraries no longer take up the bulk of my time, they haven’t fallen off my radar. I’m still active with advocacy organizations in trying to shape copyright laws and policies as they apply to libraries, and I still write/speak on both copyright and libraries.

Overview of Rebalancing Copyright

With each new significant technology advance—photocopiers, videorecorders, the graphical web—copyright owners have pushed courts and legislators to protect their interest over the public’s. Yet, the public interest was seen as more important by this nation’s founders, as they made it possible to educate the citizenry and encouraged innovation. Should this important aspect of copyright be narrowed, the public will see a decrease in innovation, caused by a forced reinvestment in the same content repeatedly (e.g., buying the same content in Beta, VCR, DVD, BluRay).

This book reminds practitioners that their clients’ short-term interests may be served by demanding strict compliance with the language of copyright law, but the cost may be damaging their long-term interests as those same laws are used to inhibit their own innovation.

This title is thus divided into three sections.

  • Connector.

    Briefly familiarizes users with the historical context in which both copyright and libraries developed in the United States.

  • Connector.

    Looks at possible revisions to existing code sections that could be helpful to the public interest, whether in clarifying commonly confusing terms, incorporating judicial decisions into the text of statutes, or updating outdated provisions.

  • Connector.

    Undertakes a more ambitious, theoretical overhaul of copyright principles and imagines how copyright might operate in such a reimagined environment.

Rebalancing Copyright: Considering Technology’s Impact on Libraries and the Public Interest
Author: Michelle M. Wu
Item #:
ISBN: 978-0-8377-4137-6
Pages: xviii, 308p. (326p. total)
1 Volume, perfect bound…….$99.00  $89.00
Published: Getzville; William S. Hein & Co., Inc.; 2021

Promo Code: WU2022
Discount Expires: March 1, 2023

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