In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the North Atlantic Treated Organization (NATO) pursued a “two-track” strategy on nuclear disarmament: push the Soviet Union to limit its arsenal, while simultaneously deploying multiple-warhead missiles that were difficult and expensive to defend against.
The strategy had its detractors, at least some of whom felt that positioning new missiles in Western Europe increased the risk of a first strike by the Soviet Union. By the end of the decade, though, the combination of accelerated military spending and economic and social unrest had taken its toll.
In a way you might find less orchestrated, consider the worldwide terrorist attacks that have come to define the last two decades. With increased spending on security, defense and inspection, the measures have added trillions of dollars to the cost of doing business.
In both cases, the viability of existing institutions was or is being undermined by a set of externally imposed costs. Rather than becoming more efficient and competitive, we’re defending against the elusive.
That idea came to mind when I met a group of librarian lawyers last week. I hadn’t really thought of it before, but libraries increasingly are turning to in-house lawyers to advise them on rights clearances and related liabilities.
Absent a coherent directory of rights, things like copyright extension, the DMCA and limitations on both access to and the distribution of eBooks have greatly complicated what libraries may and may not do. It’s natural to turn to legal counsel, but it doesn’t solve the problem.
Consistent with the ideas in “The opportunity in abundance“, this might be a good time for the publishing community to pursue its own “two-track” strategy: Invest in resources (like a rights directory) that solve problems downstream; and repurpose the money freed up to offer better services.
I don’t want to deny lawyers a library gig, but I’d like to see them employed to add value more than to defend against potential liabilities.