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I’m back from this year’s annual conference of the Music Library Association, held in Chicago (during a snowstorm) Feb. 17-21. This year I also attended the pre-conference hosted by MOUG (Music OCLC Users Group). Some highlights:

Sound Recordings and Copyright

Tim Brooks of the Association of Recorded Sound Collections described the ARSC’s work lobbying Congress to reform US copyright law on pre-1972 sound recordings. These recordings are not covered by federal law, but are often governed by state law, which tends to give copyright holders, in Tim’s words, “absolute control.” Tim cited some startling statistics: of all recordings made in the 1940s-70s, only 30% have been made available by the copyright holders; of recordings made in the 1920s-30s, only 10% are available; and of the enormous corpus of ethnic and traditional music from all over the world that was recorded by Columbia and Victor in the early years of the 20th century, only 1% is available. Because US copyright law for sound recordings is the most restrictive in the world, early recordings of American artists are currently legally available in other countries but not in the US — which means that American libraries and archives are unable to preserve this portion of our own heritage.

In response, the ARSC has made the following reccomendations:

  • Place pre-1972 recordings under a single federal law.
  • Harmonize US copyright law with that of other countries.
  • Legalize use of “orphaned” works (whose copyright holders cannot be identified).
  • Permit use of “abandoned” works, with compensation to the copyright holders.
  • Permit “best practices” digitization for preservation. Libraries and archives are the most likely to preserve early recordings (they have a better track record on this than the recording companies themselves) and the least likely to re-issue recordings (so they’re no financial threat to copyright holders).

Of ARSC’s experiences lobbying Congress members, Tim reports that many were simply unaware of the situation, but were sympathetic when informed; that libraries are seen as non-partisan and a public good, “the guys in the white hats”; and that there is now much “soft” support in Congress. Other ARSC activities include a “white paper” for the Obama administration, and the establishment of an organization called the Historical Recording Coalition for Access and Preservation (HRCAP) to further lobbying efforts.

In another copyright session, attendees and speakers offered some good tips for approaching your legal counsel re digitization projects:

  • Present your own credentials (copyright workshops you’ve attended, etc.) pertaining to libraries and copyright.
  • Cite specific passages of the law (section 108, 110, etc.)
  • Show you’ve done due diligence (e.g., you’ve replaced LPs with CD re-issues where available; you’ve determined other LPs are in deteriorating condition, etc.)
  • Try to persuade counsel to adopt a “risk assessment” approach (i.e., just how likely is it that a copyright holder will challenge you in this case) versus the more typical “most conservative” approach.
  • File a “contemporaneous writing” — a memo or other document, written at the outset of a digitization project, in which you explain why you believe that you are acting in good faith. This will go a long way towards protecting you if you are in fact challenged by a copyright holder.

Is the Compact Disc Dead?

This was the question addressed by a very interesting panel of speakers, including a VP of Digital Product Strategy at Universal Music Group; the CEO of the Cedille recording label; a concert violinst (Rachel Barton Pine); a former president of the American Symphony Orchestra League; and a music librarian at Northwestern U.

The panel quickly cited a number of reasons to believe that the CD remains a viable format: among these, the universal human desire to own a physical artifact “to give and to show”; the ability to listen on room speakers, not just earbuds; violinst Pine noted that she sells and autographs some 40-70 of her CDs after each performance, that people enjoy the personal contact with the artist, and relish being able to take home a souvenir of the concert. Flaws of downloadable releases were cited in comparison: garbled indexing, making identifying and retrieving of classical works difficult; frequent lack of program notes to provide historical context; the inferior audio quality of compressed files. Changes in student behavior were also noted: in online databases, students tend to retrieve only selected works, or excerpts of works; there doesn’t seem to be the inherent incentive to browse like that offered by physical albums, with the result that students don’t develop as much in-depth knowledge of a composer’s works. On the other hand, the reduced cost of digital distribution has enabled smaller orchestras and other groups to reach a larger audience.

Concern was expressed over an increasing trend among major labels to release performances only in the form of downloadable files, often with a license restricted to “end user only” — preventing libraries from purchasing and making available these performances to their users. The panel proposed that performers and IAML (the International Association of Music Libraries) put pressure on the record companies. Alternative approaches? CDs-on-demand: Cedille’s boss sees this as a growing trend. Also, consortial deals with individual record companies: OhioLink has recently done one with Naxos.

Finally, a concern was expressed about the aggregator model of audio-steaming databases: that these hamper libraries’ responsiveness to local user needs, and the building of the unique collections important for research. The music library community needs to negotiate for distribution models that enable individual selection for traditional collection development.

How Music Libraries are Using New Technologies

  • Videos demonstrating specific resources, such as composers’ thematic catalogs (similar to Lauren’s Research Toolkits).
  • “Un-associations,” in informal online forums like Yahoo or Google groups. There are currently groups for orchestra libraries, flutists, etc.
  • Use of Delicious to create user guides.
  • Meebo for virtual ref.
  • Twitter for virtual ref and for announcements/updates.
  • Widgets and gadgets to embed customized searches, other libraries’ searchboxes, and other web content into LibGuides, etc.
  • ChaCha (a cellphone question-answering service) for virtual ref. Indiana U is partnering with ChaCha in a beta test.


A JSTOR rep presented palns to add 20 more music journals to the database, including more area-studies and foreign-language titles. Attendees pointed out that popular music serials (Downbeat, Rolling Stone, etc.) are becoming primary source material for scholarly research — would JSTOR consider including them? The rep replied that JSTOR originally required that journals be peer-reviewed, but had recently begun to relax this rule. A dabate ensued among attendees as to whether the pop publications were sufficiently relevant to JSTOR’s mission — some believed that JSTOR should stick to its original focus on scholarly literature, and that others could preserve the pop stuff.

Bibliographic Control and the LC Working Group (or: Music Catalogers Freak Out)

The MOUG plenary session gave catalogers a forum to discuss ramifications of the LC Working Group’s recommendations on bibliographic control (see my blog posting for RTSS 08). Concerns expressed:

If collaboration is properly defined as “doing something together for a purpose,” then the disparate (and sometimes opposing) purposes of publishers, vendors, and libraries means that LC’s vision of collective responsibility for metadata and bibliographic control will not constitute true collaboration, but merely exploitation.

The Working Group appears to some to harbor a naive faith in digital architecture to meet all discovery and retrieval needs (it reminded one attendee of predictions that microform would solve all our problems). This is perceived to cultivate a gobal, generalist, one-size-fits-all outlook divorced from existing patterns of scholarly communication and “communities of practice” (e.g., the subject specialist and the community of practitioners that he/she serves). Bibliographic control should be “a network of communication between communities of practice.” An MLA liaison to ALA’s RDA committee noted that the RDA folks expected local catalogers to help fill in the gaps in the currently-vague RDA code — but when specialist communities actually propose details (such as a list of genre terms for music), they’re “dissed.”

Others fear that if LC backs away from its historical role as national library, relying on the larger community of publishers, vendors, and libraries to collaborate in bibliographic control, the actual effect will be that library administrators will think: “If LC isn’t doing this work, then we don’t have to either” — and collaboration will disappear.

Yet others fear the “commodification of cataloging.” With the increasing availability of MARC records and other metadata from third-party sources, there seems to be a growing perception that all metadata is the same — and a concommitant decline in willingness to investigate its source and quality. Administrators increasingly speak of metadata as a commodity.

Remember Katrina?

I’ll close with an item from the business meeting of SEMLA (the Southeast chapter) which was a cause of great celebration: our colleagues from Tulane University in New Orleans, whose music collection was flooded in Hurricane Katrina, announced that 70% of their collection has successfully been restored, and the last portion of it recently returned to them. They brought along a few representative items for show and tell — including a score died pink by its red paper covers. Recalling photos of the original damage, a 70% recovery rate seems a miracle!