ARL Policy Notes
An Art Historian Uses the #LibrariansCode to Advocate for Open Access

Laurie Monahan is a professor on a mission. She’s an art historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and for years she’s been working with colleagues to develop an open access policy for the entire University of California system. Monahan compares UC faculty negotiating publishing contracts to the classic pop artists exploited by record labels in the 1950s and ‘60s: they sign away their rights because they are alone and intimidated by exotic legal contracts. By joining together to create a system-wide OA policy, faculty present a united front and ensure wider access to their scholarly work. It’s a powerful image, and one that’s taking hold on campuses around the country.

Part of the proposed UC policy is depositing all UC-generated scholarship in an open institutional repository (IR) to make scholarly work available to the public, but that raised a red flag for some of Laurie’s art history colleagues. Their scholarship often involves embedded images that are subject to copyright, and they wondered, reasonably, whether those images could be used in an article that’s freely available to the public online. This concern should sound familiar to any librarian who administers an IR. Concerns about embedded third-party content can even cause graduate students and professors to change their research plans, focusing on subjects that raise fewer copyright concerns.

Laurie took those concerns seriously, and used the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries to defend the use of third-party content in publicly available research. Principle Six of the Code states that it is fair use for a library to receive material for its IR, and to make deposited works publicly available in unredacted form, including items that contain copyrighted material incorporated on the basis of fair use. The kinds of uses made by art history scholars, who need images in order to explain, illustrate, and support their theses, are likely to be supported by a strong fair use rationale, and Principle Six simply affirms that this rationale will be sufficient to allow publication in an IR. Her email explaining how fair use applies to the IR has made the rounds in the UC community, and hopefully Principle Six will help UC move closer to effective collective action to correct the dysfunctions in scholarly publishing.

This is the fourth blog post in a series highlighting some of the fair use success stories we’re beginning to hear from librarians using the Code to move past fear and uncertainty and into positive action using their fair use rights. As with every Code of Best Practices, the #librarianscode can, will, and should be applied differently by different people and institutions in different situations. It is not one-size-fits-all. Some will be more conservative than the consensus described in the Code, while others may go further, depending on local circumstances. These stories are not meant to highlight ideal or best applications of the Code, as there is really no single right way to use the document. Rather, these stories show libraries moving from inaction to action thanks to the encouragement and support that the Code provides. How will you use the Code? If you have a story to share, please email socialmedia@american.edu.