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
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2014 @ 4:34pm

    Compare to U.S.

    This type of thing is ubiquitous in the U.S. Just search "permission to publish/use" + public domain + library"

    The only library that makes any sense is the Library of Congress, and even then, they have strict rules regarding physical items and physical presence.

    Information for Researchers Using the Library of Congress

    Cameras may be carried on the grounds and within the buildings of the Library, but, generally, no pictures may be taken in the reading rooms. With the permission of the head of a reading room, hand-held cameras may be used for copying Library material when regular light sources are sufficient. Photographs for news, advertising, or commercial purposes may be taken only with the permission of the Library's Public Affairs Officer, who must also approve the use of tripod or flash in the exhibition areas.

    Library of Congress Researchers, Manuscript Reading Room:
    Rules and Regulations:

    2. PERSONAL PROPERTY. No personal belongings, including briefcases, notebooks, books, folders, envelopes, purses, or hats are allowed in the reading room. The use of electronic communications devices, such as wireless phones and pagers, is prohibited, and such devices must be silenced. Laptop computers are allowed, but the use of any other electronic devices is subject to staff approval. Digital cameras and tripods are allowed for making research copies, but scanners are prohibited. Outer garments, including vests, sweaters with pockets, coats, suit coats, and sports jackets, are subject to search. Free lockers are provided to secure personal property. Exceptions may be requested for notes or other material essential to research. These items must be approved and stamped by reference staff before being brought into the reading room. Notes may be taken only on the paper or note cards provided in the reading room. Pens may not be used, and pencils are provided. Locker keys must be returned at the end of the day.


    The major law libraries have sensible copying rules, except possibly Yale.

    ?If Yale owns the copy, but the copyright has passed into public domain:

    If the copyright has passed into the public domain, Yale may charge for access to its copy, but it cannot request that the researcher apply for permission to publish it. Although not tested in court, Yale may be able to permit access to a copy in the public domain but deny permission to publish it, if Yale itself is going to publish the "copy" in the foreseeable future."

    Literally hundreds of U.S. libraries, including state libraries, illegally assume the right to grant permissions, censor, collect fees, control use, collect personal information and demand indemnification agreements, regardless of who owns the copyright, and even regardless of whether the work has been published. Louisiana State University gives us this latest twist in demanding that users seek permission to publish something from a "published" work. This is no different from a bookstore seeking royalties for quoting from a book they sell.

    And this from a discussion board - straight dope - about the New York Public Library image collection:

    As the physical rights holder, the Library charges a usage fee to use any images from its collections for any type of publication, broadcast, exhibition, web site, etc. The library does not claim copyright on these images.
    Please remember as it is stated on the Library's web site it is strictly prohibited to download images for any use other than personal or research purposes without obtaining written permission from the Library and payment of use fees.

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