Authors, Publishers and Librarians – Perspectives on Copyright Laws

When it comes to copyright, there are basic concepts we all need to know about. Issues such as what is protected by copyright, for how long, and determining ownership of a work are some of these basic concepts.  However, depending on the issue, each of us comes to the copyright table with a perspective. For example, I may be authoring a book, or publishing a newsletter, or a librarian helping a patron find appropriate resources. The table below is only the beginning of this discussion and is set out in somewhat cryptic language.  It is based on U.S. law but the issues are similar in all countries. The table is inspired by two courses I am teaching on copyright – one for authors and publishers – and one for librarians.

Copyright Issue Author Publisher Librarian
Copyright does not protect ideas Only the words I use to express my ideas are protected Another publisher can have a similar publication to mine on a similar topic If ideas are not protected, then I can summarize articles and books rather than reproduce them
The use of © is not mandatory I will use the © so people know I am the author of a work; this may also deter copyright infringement I will place the © on our publications because I can get greater damages in a lawsuit if the infringement is willful I must remind everyone in our library that works are protected even without a ©
Copyright registration is voluntary I will register my works in case I need to enforce my rights; I may consider registering a collection of works to save on registration fees and paperwork I will register to ensure that in a lawsuit I receive any losses to us, any profits to the infringer, and possibly attorney fees If a work is registered, it may be easier for me to obtain permission to use the work as the work will be listed in the records of the Copyright Office
Fair use is ambiguous Can I use a short quote in an article I write, or lyrics from a song in a book Will I specifically permit certain nonprofit, noncommercial uses to make it easier for readers to interpret fair use How can I make a proper analysis of the 4 fair use factors and make a copyright risk analysis in each situation
Copyright infringement is unauthorized use of a work How can I prevent others from using my work without my permission; how do I monitor unauthorized uses of my work How can I make a living with all the unauthorized uses of content; should I consider using DRM (digital rights management) Will I be liable if I unintentionally use content without permission
Copyright education I need to know all I can about copyright law so I can best protect my work I need to be on top of how copyright law affects electronic publishing and social networking I need to know about complying with copyright law and be able to educate others I work with about copyright law


  1. Ian Palmer says:

    Hi Lesley,

    Great chart – very useful! One key constituent I’d love to see you consider adding is end users, particularly those in the corporate environment.

    Again though, nice work.

  2. Sherri says:

    Most important to academics, authors and librarians, is fair use. Consider creating a separate guide for perspectives on fair use.

  3. Marilyn says:

    Lesley, wonderful chart, thanks. I would add something on permissions – what it is, how it works, what (depending on the publisher) it allows you to do, etc.

  4. Lesley says:

    Thanks Wendy, good suggestion. Jay, CCM 500, Library and Special Library Copyright Issues does cover permissions, licenses and the CCC for all kinds of libraries. See

  5. Jay says:

    I’m not sure if your courses cover academic and corporate libraries, but if so, please cover permissions granted by the Copyright Clearance Center and any other similar organizations; I hear many disagreements regarding what is–and what is not–permitted through this license. For academic organizations and corporate libraries (not sure about public libraries), this is an important issue.

  6. Wendy says:

    You might include something about copyright collectives. And what about licensing…between the author and publisher….between the publisher and end user… how the library and data aggregators fit into this.

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