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portal: Libraries and the Academy 3.2 (2003) 352-353

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Licensing Digital Content: A Practical Guide for Librarians,Lesley Ellen Harris. Chicago: American Library Association, 2002. 144p. softcover $45 (ISBN 0-8389-0815-2)

Copyright and licensing are two of the most important and evolving concepts in society today. Intellectual property interests have always been of primary concern to libraries and with the advent of born-digital information, the ever-evolving web of legal, ethical, and technical issues facing libraries will continue to be intertwined with the laws of copyright and the ways in which libraries store and disseminate digital information. This volume provides a comprehensive overview of digital licensing agreements for novices and offers good tips for librarians who may already be heavily involved in licensing digital content. Harris, a copyright and licensing attorney and consultant, is the editor and publisher of TheCopyright & New Media Law Newsletter and has previously written Digital Property: Currency of the 21st Century (McGraw-Hill, 1997). In addition to her publications, Harris also maintains a Web site <> that includes features and tutorials concerning licensing and copyright.

Comprised of eight chapters that systematically represent the workflow of licensing digital content for libraries, this volume covers when to license, how to negotiate, and vocabulary and boilerplate clauses that can be adapted for particular situations. The chapter that includes questions and answers concerning licensing was written from questions contributed by librarians, and they are answered in great detail. This section is continued on the Web site mentioned above, and the author actively seeks further questions from the profession for inclusion in her online resource. The volume includes a glossary, index, and a section on resources, many of which are Web-based resources, and sections 107 and 108 of the U.S. Copyright Act.

This title would be very useful for academic and public librarians or information professionals who are, or will be, licensing digital content, especially licenses that may require negotiation. Harris feels that with proper preparation librarians can be qualified to negotiate licenses that will benefit their patrons. The section on negotiations is both well written and insightful, as it conveys the win-win idea of licensing in which the intellectual property owner can win by licensing libraries the material with the rights that they need to support their users.

In comparison with Interpreting and Negotiating Licensing Agreements (Neal-Schuman, 1999)by Bielefield and Cheeseman, Harris's book focuses more on the transient nature and instability of digital information while recognizing the new types of licensing that can be negotiated when dealing with born-digital media. The negotiation chapter is much more focused on acquiring digital rights than Bielefield's overviews and explanations of click-through [End Page 352] agreements and shrink-wrap licenses. Between the two volumes the reader will get a sense of how this field has evolved over the past four years and will find encouragement on how to negotiate out of click-to-fit agreements that may unnecessarily restrict libraries. Both volumes briefly touch on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998; however, the reader would be wise to choose other sources if interested in how this act governs licensing and copyright.

Much more work needs to be done in documenting the ways in which libraries license digital content, as it will help educate intellectual property holders concerning digital licensing. Born-digital information is just this century's version of the printing press. It will be the job of libraries and librarians to convey to authors that, as in the past, they should want their knowledge available to the widest audience so that their ideas, albeit conveyed in a new format, can live and influence other generations and not be locked away or forgotten just because the format could be restricted.


Robert H. McDonald
Florida State University