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Weekly News Digest

May 25, 2021 — In addition to this week's NewsBreaks article and the monthly NewsLink Spotlight, Information Today, Inc. (ITI) offers Weekly News Digests that feature recent product news and company announcements. Watch for additional coverage to appear in the next print issue of Information Today. For other up-to-the-minute news, check out ITIís Twitter account: @ITINewsBreaks.

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Contributed Article: NFTs and Copyright: An Uncomfortable Conjunction?

The following is an article by Dave Davis, a research analyst at Copyright Clearance Center (CCC). It has been lightly edited to conform to NewsBreaks’ style.

In April 2021, Hollywood writer and director Kevin Smith announced that he was putting an unreleased film of his, Killroy Was Here, up for sale via NFT (non-fungible token). He’s auctioning this work off lock, stock, and barrel—that is, all of the digital files of which the film is composed and without retaining any copies or backups. He’s certainly aware of what he is doing, saying, “What you get is the whole movie, with the hard-drive files, in the real world. The completed ‘Killroy’ movie is the NFT. You’re a distributor, my friend. Or you can wheel and deal. They can take it to Netflix. Or someone can buy it and just put it on their shelf and never show it again. That’s a possibility” (emphasis added). However, unless I am reading the redoubtable Smith wrong, nowhere has he said that he is transferring his copyright in this film as part of the deal. And that means that the “wheeling and dealing” is with the film as is—no material changes, no sequels. It really is the “whole movie,” but only the movie.

Kevin Smith’s is among the most recent in a series of high-profile auctions involving NFTs and creative works. What really catches my eye in these highly publicized, big-dollar auctions is the question I think most of the articles about them skip over (or don’t deal with at all): What were the rights included? The traditional rules of copyright assignment and transfer, which have been encoded into law and practiced since the beginning of the republic, still work, and nothing in these digital arrangements changes anything in those. Right?

But let’s back up a bit and describe in more detail what it is we are talking about. 

A technological innovation created less than a decade ago, the NFT is briefly (and functionally) defined by The New York Times’ Josie Thaddeus-Johns: “An NFT is an asset verified using blockchain technology, in which a network of computers records transactions and gives buyers proof of authenticity and ownership. The current boom is mostly for digital assets, including images, GIFs, songs or videos. Most importantly, NFTs make digital artworks unique, and therefore sellable.” Signed lithographs also come to mind, back when Picasso and Dali were signing their lithographs and putting a number on each one to make them each unique (although they always were still copies). It is literally true that, in that signing and number process, the artists turned copies into originals—which is what NFTs, in their way, do now.

Intriguingly, blogger Bill Rosenblatt recently compared NFTs to a decades-old concept, DRM (originally, digital rights management, but here, more specifically, the forms of digital locks for digital files used to either permit or deny access to the files, based on certain conditions, such as payment). It’s a provocative angle, and it may indeed have a useful future (if intrinsic costs can be controlled for). The idea is that, since the distributed digital ledger carries its own chain of ownership information, no one in the process is able to pull a fast one. (I don’t mean zero entities ever, I mean, hardly anyone, to a very high standard of measurement. Nothing technological is perfect, if only because nothing human is perfect.)

What makes this whole issue news is perhaps not simply that NFTs are sold to individuals by the creators of digital works, but that they are commanding very high prices indeed.

Now, outside of a small but enthusiastic cadre of crypto-enthusiasts (and hopeful high-dollar value creators with some goods to sell), many of us are struggling to see much social utility in the advent of NFTs. 

Encryption comes into the process because digital files are notoriously easy to copy, and much of the colossus known as the internet is based on that very premise of perfect, limitless copyability. But a digital file that always “knew” where it had originated from and where it had been in the meantime? That’s news—and I think in the long term, it’s an attribute that might remain useful. In other words, using their “encoded chain of title” or distributed digital ledger encoding, NFTs “are designed to give you something that can’t be copied: ownership of the work (though the artist can still retain the copyright and reproduction rights, just like with physical artwork),” writes Mitchell Clark in The Verge. “To put it in terms of physical art collecting: anyone can buy a Monet print. But only one person can own the original.”

But please don’t get me wrong: We live in the 21st century, and I have no beef with anyone who can successfully make money out of nothing but electricity, encryption, computing power, and consumer attention—assuming they can accomplish that without wrecking any other part of the world. One mantra of digital capitalism might be restated thus: If your activities are legitimate, go ahead and make your way in the market, and let the chips (or tokens) fall where they may.

I hazard the guess that, even in a big-dollar NFT sale, copyright in the work is not commonly—and explicitly—assigned, and those rights therefore will remain with the creator. If that is the case, then it follows that the copyright—meaning, among other things, the right to make and authorize others to make copies—can’t be sold further down the line by the buyer of the NFT. And that’s because you can’t (legitimately) sell what you never acquired in the first place, which might eventually come as a surprise to someone who shelled out a few million bucks for one of these things and still didn’t get the rights. (I’d log on to a pay-per-view to witness that moment live!) If NFT creative sales become common, copyright assignments associated with them may become common also. This is where a very old bureaucratic process would be helpful in creating a very new market otherwise founded (it would appear) entirely on technology. 

From the perspective of more traditional applications of copyright, it might be useful to realize that these NFT transactions, at least based on public information to date, are less like outright copyright transfers and more like narrow-but-exclusive licenses. As the supposed “buyer,” what you are getting is an exclusive right to access and look at the NFT while you hold the license plus a right to transfer that license (for money) to someone else. There are definitely assets and a market there, but they may not be exactly those that occur to buyers at first glance.

Before wrapping this up, I want to put in a plug for a solid two-part series on this very topic—on a much more detailed level—on the (reliably excellent; I recommend my fellow copyright mavens all subscribe to it) Kluwer Copyright Blog under the title, “The Rise of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) and the Role of Copyright Law” (Parts I and II).

A final word about Smith and the NFTing of his film: It’s a bold move, and I hope he achieves his purposes with it. But shelve it such that it never sees the light of day? Yikes. Double-yikes, Batman. Shades of the return of the hidden Wu-Tang Clan album! And a question out of left field for the writer-director: Would the winner of this auction have the legal right to take the words “A film by Kevin Smith” off of it? Just curious, as the saying goes.


Dave Davis is a research analyst at Copyright Clearance Center (CCC). He previously held directorships in both public libraries and corporate libraries and earned joint master’s degrees in library and information sciences and medieval European history from The Catholic University of America. Davis is fascinated by copyright issues, content licensing, and data. Also, rock ’n’ roll music.

EDP Sciences Transitions Five Math Journals to OA

EDP Sciences announced the following:

[F]ive mathematics journals published by EDP Sciences and the Société de Mathématiques Appliquées et Industrielles (SMAI) will join Mathematical Modelling of Natural Phenomena (MMNP) in open access under the Subscribe-to-Open (S2O) model in 2021. …

The decision to transition the journals to open access at this time has been reached despite challenging operating conditions. Inevitably, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to influence library finances and complicate subscriptions. …

‘In this first year of transition, we felt that supporting equitable open access through S2O merits pressing ahead with the transition even if all the financial criteria are not strictly met,’ commented Agnès Henri, Managing Director, EDP Sciences. ‘Our six mathematics journals still require support from institutional subscribers to remain in open access and we encourage libraries to join our S2O programme as soon as they can.’

For more information, read the news item.

ZDNet's 'The [U.K.] Government Wants to Have Another Go at Digital Identity Ö'

Daphne Leprince-Ringuet writes the following for ZDNet:

Filing a tax return, changing some key personal information like a name or an address, sponsoring a visa applicant: for many of us, this type of admin is still synonymous with complex paperwork and hours spent on the phone trying to reach the right government service for advice. 

The UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS) wants to change that. As the organization responsible for running the Gov.UK website, GDS’s mission statement is to modernize the way that citizens interact with public services.  

The idea is that it should be easier to claim benefits, check your visa status or look up how much tax you are paying: these processes, as well as many other public services, should be easily accessed online, on the Gov.UK website.  

GDS was created a decade ago, and has since then run into a number of difficulties that impeded its progress; but the organization has now published a new strategy that lays down a vision for the next three years.  

For more information, read the article.

Refinery29's 'Get Ready for the Summer of Revenge Travel'

Shivani Vora writes the following for Refinery29:  

Call it the comeback trip, the revenge vacation, or whatever you want—so long as it accurately describes that feeling of hard-earned victory travelers all over the country are feeling as they plan and take their first, post-quarantine, extravagant—but safe—vacations this summer and beyond. …

Travel industry professionals say that travelers across the board have the same sentiments. 

‘We have spent a year in isolation, and travel is how we are healing and reconnecting with others and ourselves,’ says Erika Richter, the senior director of communications for the American Society of Travel Advisors, which represents more than 14,000 advisors in the United States. ‘The big trend today is that people are spending way more on their first post-pandemic trips than they normally would. The rest of this year and into next year is shaping up to be a golden era for travel.’ …

The latest data supports the idea that Americans are ready to hit the road: a survey of more than 1200 travelers by the research firm Destination Analysts between April 23 and 25 shows that Americans’ anxiety about contracting the virus are the lowest they have been. Over 43% say they would not feel guilty traveling—a record since the pandemic started.

For more information, read the article.

CCC Plans Virtual Town Hall on Collective Licensing and Copyright

Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) is hosting a virtual town hall on June 9, 2021, at 10 a.m. EDT called The Future of Collective Licensing—Copyright in the Digital Marketplace. Guest speakers include Lois F. Wasoff, Mark Seeley, and R. Bruce Rich, the authors of CCC’s recent ebook, Creating Solutions Together: Lessons to Inform the Future of Collective Licensing. According to the press release, “[T]he group will field questions about how collective licensing creates efficient markets for copyright, permitting researchers, academics, publishers and others to make uses of copyrighted materials and enabling rightsholders to receive remuneration for the use of their works.”

For more information, read the press release.

Emerald Publishing Enters Transformative Agreements With European Consortiums

Emerald Publishing signed new transformative agreements: one with the FinELib Consortium and one with CzechELib.

The press release states, “Emerald’s three-year deal with the FinELib Consortium is in effect from 2021 and will enhance the publishing experience for researchers from 33 of its academic member institutions, giving them access to more than 200,000 articles from 310 journals.”

And Emerald’s “two-year transformative deal with CzechELib—the National Centre for Electronic Information Resources of the Czech Republic (managed by the National Library of Technology of the Czech Republic)—[allows] researchers from seven of its academic and public member institutions to gain access to articles across Emerald’s Premier collection and Management portfolio as well as being able to select journals from subject-specific collections to build a bespoke eJournal library.”

For more information, read the press release.

Lean Library and EBSCO Discovery Service Join Forces for Streamlined Searching

SAGE’s Lean Library browser extension is now integrated with EBSCO Information Services’ EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) to help patrons get library search results from their existing workflow in Lean Library alongside resources such as Google Scholar, Wikipedia, and publisher websites. This will mean they get the most relevant results from a single search.

“Most students and researchers now begin their discovery process outside the library—on open discovery tools like Google Scholar. But these tools, whilst convenient, don’t give library patrons access to the precision search and curated browsing offered by the library’s discovery service. Not to mention exposure of the library’s print collection,” says Matt Hayes, Lean Library’s managing director. “This integration gives library patrons the best of both worlds—the best-in-class tools of their library delivered in the convenience of their preferred workflow—driving usage of library search and increasing the impact and visibility of the library.”

For more information, read the press release.

Springer Nature Pivots Climate Change in Africa Reference Work to OA

Springer Nature “announced that the Major Reference Work African Handbook of Climate Change Adaptation, the most comprehensive publication on climate change adaptation in Africa ever produced, will now be available open access (OA). As the largest publisher of academic books, Springer Nature has brought together over 100 contributions from across Africa with papers prepared by scholars, representatives from social movements, practitioners and members of governmental agencies, undertaking climate change projects in Africa, and working with communities across the African continent.”

The press release continues that “the new comprehensive handbook discusses in three volumes current thinking and presents the main issues and challenges associated with climate change in Africa. By being free to read and use for all globally it will enable researchers and policymakers to build on this knowledge straightaway.”

For more information, read the press release.



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