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UNYSLA Fall Recap – Kevin Dames on Piracy Paradigm Project

By Kai Li

As the last session of the “Lawyers, Librarians, and Pirates” conference organized by Upstate New York Chapter of SLA, K. Matthew Dames, who is currently the Copyright & Information Policy Adviser in Syracuse University, gave an insightful and informative presentation about copyright, the construct of policy, the shift of paradigms as well as how libraries can survive in such an environment.

By tracing the US history since 1970s, Mr. Dames stated that after intellectual property replaced manufacturing as the foundation of the US economy, intellectual actually took the form of traditional property, namely, intellectual property became something that can be owned and controlled exclusively, which is still the case nowadays. In order to gain a bigger market share across the world, American businesses and government constructed the idea of piracy and push the concept to other countries, which resulted the effect that is called “normalization of copyright laws” by the presenter.

On the other hand, the culture in the library is characterized as free and as transparent as possible. So the presenter identifies the conflicts between the piracy model as well as the free model in the libraries. Even though the side of libraries seems to win in recent events like Cambridge University Press v. Georgia State University, Authors Guild v. HathiTrust as well as Random House’s recent claim that libraries own their eBooks, it is clear that the distribution chain of digital contents doesn’t necessarily include any middleman, libraries being one of them; and what’s more, middlemen are actually being killed in the market.

For Mr. Dames, since the reformation of copyright law is almost impossible based on his observation, the only way library can survive in the market, or even reverse the market, is to adopt the Open Access model. But since the future of Open Access is totally open, and it’s almost certain to come in the future, recently, Copyright Clearance Center are helping publishers to transform from traditional publishing models to Open Access model, because publishers understand that, the only way to predict the future is to create it, which is exactly what libraries should do in order to play a bigger role in tomorrow’s world of digital content.

Another point Mr. Dames made is that libraries have the furthest distance away from publishers, however, they are also the nearest to library members in the chain. As a result, libraries should figure out how to better serve the members. And moreover, libraries should become publishers themselves, not only in order to take control of the contents, but also to become more familiar with the general process of publishing.


Kai Li is a first year MLIS student in iSchool, Syracuse University. He was a cataloger in Capital Library of China for five years before he came to the United States. He is interested in various topics in this field, including metadata, eBooks and all the innovations in libraries. Follow him on Twitter @Nalsi.

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