Proving once again that libraries are vestiges of Soviet thinking, an administrator at the University of Arkansas is insisting that a news outlet stop publishing files from university archives that paint Hillary Clinton in a bad light.
Earlier this week, the Washington Free Beacon published some Clinton audio files that it obtained from a University of Arkansas library collection. The files were located in a public library and freely handed over to the Free Beacon. They include a recording of Clinton joking about an accused rapist she once represented as a public defender and would seem to reflect poorly on the likely Democratic presidential candidate.
Many people are wondering if that's why the dean of of the university's libraries decided to retroactively ban Free Beacon staff members from using the facilities, charge them with "intellectual property rights" violations and "unauthorized publication" of library materials, and demand that they remove the recordings from their website.
The Free Beacon notes that the dean, Carolyn Henderson Allen, is a Clinton supporter who donated $500 to her 2007 presidential campaign. That makes Allen's cease and desist letter to the Free Beacon a hilarious blend of pure political retaliation and fealty to bureaucratic protocol:
I am writing to you to direct the Washington Free Beacon to cease and desist your ongoing violation of the intellectual property rights of the University of Arkansas with regard to your unauthorized publication of audio recordings obtained fro the Roy Red Collection in Special Collections at Mullins Library at the University of Arkansas, Fayettville.
Allen claimed she previously informed the Free Beacon's Alana Goodman that she would have to fill out a "permission to publish form" before publishing any of the material from the library. Since Goodman failed to do so, the Free Beacon is now banned:
I cautioned her that the failure to comply with this specific policy in the future would lead to the suspension of any research privileges with special collections. Accordingly this letter will now serve as formal notice that the research privileges for your organization and anyone acting on behalf of your organization are now officially suspended… based upon your willful failure to comply with the institution's policies and protocols.
But that's not all. Allen is also insisting that the Free Beacon take the audio recordings off its website, track down any copies that were made, and return them to the library:
To the extent you have copied and/or shared or distributed additional copies, you are hereby directed to take all necessary steps to retrieve such copies and provide them to Special Collections along with a certification of your efforts.
Allen is "very disappointed," she said:
The University, however, does not tolerate that blatant and willful disregard of its intellectual rights and properties.
Allen's properly-follow-proper-protocols approach to library policy is hilariously authoritarian. It's also quite clearly wrong. Free Beacon attorney Kurt Wimmer noted that the library handed over the files without any qualifications regarding their further dissemination. Additionally, the library has made no copyright claims on the files, so the accusation of intellectual property violation is dubious. Wimmer wrote in a letter to Allen:
At the outset, I find it stunning that you would seek to censor the dissemination of lawfully acquired information that is clearly in the public interest, given the historic role that libraries long have played in fostering free expression and the broad dissemination of information," Free Beacon attorney Kurt Wimmer wrote. "In addition to being entirely inaccurate as a matter of both law and fact, your letter is a clear assault on the First Amendment principles that are fundamental to libraries and to journalism."
For additional perspective, The Arkansas Project asked Robert Steinbuch, a professor of law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and a freedom of information expert, whether Allen has a right to restrict access to the files. She does not, he said:
Documents donated to a public library for public review are public documents. Once those documents are public documents, the library cannot restrict access to them because they don't like what the user has done with them.
It's really remarkable that this person has public access before they made critical comments, but then didn't have public access to these documents after he made critical comments…The archetype of government censorship is restricting access to public information to only those outlets that will write friendly stories.
Yeah, but… rules are rules! The Free Beacon probably didn't even have a library card, or anything.