British Library Says It's Copyright Infringement To Take Photos Inside The Library; Demands Person Delete Tweet

from the you-have-to-be-kidding-me dept

Update: The British Library has now apologized, noting that a staff member presented inaccurate info. The no camera rule is still there, but they admit it has nothing to do with copyright.

On the whole, librarians tend to be really good on copyright issues, understanding the deeper nuances better than most. Apparently, however, the British Library -- or whoever runs their Twitter feed -- leans in the other direction. There was a bizarre exchange on Twitter today, kicking off with reporter Mathew Ingram, who is in NYC for a conference, tweeting a photo of the Periodicals Room at the NY Public Library, and noting that it was his "office this morning." Another reporter, John Gapper, amusingly tweeted back a photo of his own "office" for the day, which happened to be the Humanities Reading Room at the British Library.
All in all, a little slice of life moment that's often kind of fun to see on Twitter -- two reporters noting how they're working from public libraries, separated by an ocean, at the same time. Cool. Except... along comes the British Library with a ridiculous freakout. Its Twitter feed jumped into the conversation to demand that Gapper delete the photo as being against the conditions of use. As a bunch of others started asking why, whoever handles the Twitter account for the British Library Reference Service started tweeting out a bunch of nonsensical claims about copyright and other random arguments that make no sense.

Mathew first asked if the library was serious, and was told yes, and then when Jeff Jarvis asked why, the Library first said "all the more reason for not taking photos then!" which makes no sense at all, and then followed up with two ridiculous claims:
For collection items: copyright issues; for readers: they haven't given their permission to be photographed.
Mathew pointed out that the copyright claim was absurd and that the people were in a public place. The UK isn't Hungary after all. The British Library then tried to defend the copyright statement with a series of tweets:




The argument is ridiculous. Gapper wasn't taking photos of books. It's likely that the Library was explaining why it had the rules in the first place, but even that doesn't make sense. If someone is violating the copyright, then you have copyright laws to go after them and you don't need separate terms of use that block the use of photos -- because, such rules would clearly (as here) also serve to ban photography that doesn't violate copyright law. Similarly, the Library points to the "regulations" for researchers making copies of books, though fails to note that those are what the library advises people stay within to avoid copyright issues. And, once again, none of that has anything to do with the question of whether or not photography itself should be allowed at all, especially to just take a photo of the room, in which no actual books are seen.

All too often in debates about copyright issues, people get high and mighty about something they naturally assume to be true, using a sort of "because... copyright" argument. You'd hope that libraries and the people who work there would be more careful and knowledgeable, but apparently that doesn't apply to the British Library. Either way, point taken. Next time I'm in the UK, I'll find a friendlier "office for the day" than the confused British Library.

Filed Under: copyright, john gapper, libraries, library, mathew ingram, photos, public
Companies: british library


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  1. identicon
    JH, 21 Mar 2014 @ 4:30pm

    One other thing to consider is the monopoly the BL has for their photocopiers -- which are very expensive.

    A lot of libraries *do* permit cameras -- the UK National Archives in Kew positively encourage them; though that's typically for very old & microfilmed documents.

    The BL might also think that books (sometimes very old and rather frail) may be more likely to be damaged if it allowed unrestricted photography -- people might try to flatten the book rather than to use bookrest.

    But it's probably mostly a throwback to the view that a librarian's first job is to keep the books safe from readers: that even *allowing* readers into the temple of books is extending them a privilege, they ought to be grateful that they're allowed to even breathe...

    The BL can be oddly schizophrenic, in many ways. On the one hand they can be quite good at making content available -- for example, all the images in their "Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts" under construction have been released PD, as have the million or so scanned book illustrations in the "Mechanical Curator collection" uploaded to Flickr Commons. But on the other hand much of their web interface is as user-unfriendly as it gets (eg a catalogue screen called "login", or having digital content (even about the same object) in at least six different silos, none of which have even a single cross-reference as to whether there is material in any of the others. And then jobsworth behaviour like this, where "the rules" for their own sake are more important than any sense of proportion.

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