Copyright Facts for Librarians

This post examines key copyright facts for librarians. As gatekeepers to content and information, librarians play a vital role in understanding and helping apply copyright law in their libraries and organizations. Although copyright law is not always straightforward, these copyright facts will help eliminate copyright myths and get librarians on the right track to managing copyright law in their workplaces.

Copyright Law for Librarians

copyright law for librarians and information professionalsBelow are 6 essential copyright facts for librarians. If you’re a librarian, use this list to start your copyright knowledge and add other essential information to it as you learn more about copyright law and licensing digital content.

1.    You can always summarize an article or book or post you find on a website if you cannot obtain or choose not to obtain permission to use that particular content.  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 or periodical but do not like the terms and conditions of the license, try to negotiate what you require as part of the license. That means understanding how digital content is used in your library and organization, who is using that licensed content, and where they are using it (e.g., on the library’s physical premises or remote from their homes or while traveling abroad).

3.    Provisions in copyright statutes for libraries (which allow certain reproduction without permission) are generally for specific kinds of libraries and may or may not apply to your library or to your particular use within your library.  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 is not straightforward and may take some copyright wisdom and experience to delineate.

There is no exact percentage of work set out in the U.S. or Canadian copyright statutes that state how much you can use within the fair use or fair dealing provisions. You need to apply the facts in your particular circumstances to the fair use or fair dealing criteria, then make a judgment call. It is not a risk-free process but with experience, you will become more comfortable determining whether and when fair use or fair dealing apply to your situations.

5.    Fair use and dealing applies to all users of content and not just libraries, and may apply in commercial or for profit situations.  It is less likely that you can claim the defense of fair use or fair 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. Although the international norm as set out in the Berne Copyright Treaty is life-plus-fifty, many countries such as the U.S., U.K. and European Union countries currently have a life-plus-seventy duration for copyright protection.

If you’re a librarian, consider the Copyright Leadership Certificate program. It is a fully online program aimed at taking your copyright knowledge to the next level.




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