Copyright Facts for Librarians

Below are 6 essential copyright facts for librarians.  Please add to the discussion by commenting below.

1.    You can always summarize an article or book if you cannot obtain or choose not to obtain permission to use the book.  There is no copyright protection in ideas, history, facts and news.  You can summarize these things in your own writings without infringing the copyright in the original work.

2.    Almost all licenses can be negotiated.  If you want to license an electronic database or journal but do not like the terms and conditions of the license, try to negotiate what you require as part of the license.

3.    Provisions in copyright statutes for libraries (which allow certain reproduction without permission) are generally for specific kinds of libraries.  For example, in the U.S., the “library provisions” in section 108 of the U.S. Copyright Act are for libraries and archives who have collections that are open to the public or available not only to researchers affiliated with the library or archives or with the institution of which it is a part, but also to other persons doing research in a specialized field.  In Canada, the “library provisions” are for a library, archive or museum that is not established or conducted for profit or that does not form a part of, or is not administered or directly or indirectly controlled by, a body that is established or conducted for profit, in which is held and maintained a collection of documents and other materials that is open to the public or to researchers.

4.    Fair use or fair dealing may never provide a definitive answer to whether content can be used without permission.  Fair use/dealing is intentionally ambiguous and is intended to provide flexibility to apply to a number of different uses of content.  “The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.”  Source:  U.S. Copyright Office fact sheet on fair use.

5.    Fair use/dealing applies to all users of content and not just libraries, and may apply in commercial situations.  It is less likely that you can claim the defense of fair use/dealing in for-profit situations but it is still possible.  And not all nonprofit uses of content are fair use/dealing.  “A commercial use weighs against a finding of fair use but is not conclusive on the issue.”  Source:  A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster Inc. (9th Cir. 2001).  In Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada has said that “research is not limited to non-commercial or private contexts.”  Source:  CCH Canadian Ltd. v. Law Society of Upper Canada (SCC 2004).

6.    The duration of copyright varies from country to country.  So, although you may need permission to use an article in the U.S. if the author has not been dead for 70 years, in other countries such as Canada, the copyright expires 50 years after the author’s death.



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