Licensing Digital Content: A Practical Guide for Librarians, Third Edition. By Lesley Ellen Harris. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2018. 176 p. $65.00 softcover (ISBN 978-0-8389-1630-8).

Who can use the content that a library licenses? What are e-rights? Can licensed digital content be distributed through interlibrary loan? The digital revolution has altered how libraries acquire and distribute content to patrons. Gone are the days in which libraries primarily purchased and owned physical materials. In the internet era, content can be temporarily leased electronically, which has led to unexpected legal issues for librarians and other non-lawyers to navigate (1). In Licensing Digital Content: A Practical Guide for Librarians, Harris provides a plain-language crash course in digital licensing intended to give inexperienced librarians the skills necessary to negotiate a digital license. The guide provides readers with a detailed description of the licensing experience from the development of a licensing needs assessment to the negotiation of the final agreement.

Harris draws from her unique experience as the owner of Copyrightlaws.com; she is not a librarian but has built a career demystifying copyright law and frequently works with libraries and other information services. She presents an unbiased, objective account of the licensing process. Throughout the guide, Harris reminds readers that a license must benefit both the library and the information provider. She instructs readers on the art of nonaggressive, rational negotiation, which can result in a win-win outcome for the licenser and the licensee: both parties want to “enter into a relationship in which the information provider is fairly compensated for the use of its electronic content while the [library has] the right to use that content in a manner necessary for [its] situation” (108). It is necessary to understand and accommodate the needs of both parties, and Harris has the vantage point to see the process from both sides.

The text’s central theme can be summarized in “three simple steps”: determine the needs of the library and its patrons, understand the needs of the information provider, and find a reasonable compromise between the two (17). In early chapters, Harris expounds upon these steps and details the work a library must do before entering into negotiations: developing a licensing needs assessment, creating a licensing policy, and understanding the technical jargon that will be included in the license agreement. Harris goes on to provide an examination of key clauses and boilerplate provisions related to indemnity, interlibrary loan, arbitration, confidentiality, etc., that can be added or omitted according to a library’s unique needs and circumstances. Later chapters discuss the negotiation process and answer common questions that Harris has received, and the guide ends with instructions for maintaining the license once it is written and signed, taking into consideration the management of multiple licenses, changing technologies and needs, and ensuring that content users are aware of the terms and conditions outlined in the license.

Specific examples, definitions, check lists, and quick-tips are embedded throughout these chapters. In the second chapter, Harris includes an entire sample licensing policy for readers to utilize and build upon. In the chapters on licensing clauses and boilerplate provisions, every defined clause and provision is accompanied by a licensing tip, which provides context and practical advice beyond the theoretical description. When describing portions of the license, Harris often provides specific examples describing how the license might be used by different types of libraries—for example, authorized use in an academic library will be related to teaching, scholarship, and research, while authorized use in a corporate library will be focused on internal use and employee research (66). The appendixes include a copy of Sections 107 and 108 of the US Copyright Act, which determines whether something is fair use or available for distribution through interlibrary loan; the final appendix is a digital licensing clause checklist to be consulted when reviewing and negotiating a license.

This book will be most useful to library professionals and students who are new to licensing. The guide provides a plain-English introduction to digital licensing and can walk inexperienced librarians through the process of drafting, organizing, and negotiating according to patrons’ needs. Experienced readers may draw insight from certain portions of the book, specifically in regards to changing technologies, such as text and data mining, interlibrary loan, open access, and archiving and perpetual access. Supervisors may also find the book to be a useful tool when drafting language that will be used to teach others about the licensing process, i.e., the language provided in the sample licensing policy. Harris claims that “keeping it simple is the premise of this book,” and Licensing Digital Content: A Practical Guide for Librarians fulfills this statement (17). The book logically flows from an introductory ten-step course on licensing into a description of the basic components of a license, continues to get more granular as it progresses, and ends on a call to approach the licensing process with “an open mind” and “lots of patience” (143). This eases beginners into the more difficult content while being conscious of the difficulties that still lie ahead. Readers new to the licensing process can read the guide from cover to cover without feeling overwhelmed and will walk away confident and demystified.—Nicole Wood (woodn@apsu.edu), Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, Tennessee


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