This article examines key copyright facts for librarians. Librarians are gatekeepers to content and information, and play a vital role in copyright awareness and helping apply copyright law in their libraries and organizations. Copyright law isn’t always straightforward. These copyright facts will help librarians eliminate copyright myths and get on the right track to managing copyright law in their workplaces.
Copyright Facts for Librarians
Below are six essential copyright facts for librarians. If you’re a librarian, use this list as a starting point for your copyright education journey. Add other essential information to it as you learn more about copyright law and licensing digital content.
1. You Can Always Summarize
You can always summarize an article, book or post you find on a website if you can’t obtain or choose not to obtain permission to use that particular content. There’s 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
Almost all licenses can be negotiated. If you want to license an electronic database, journal or periodical but don’t like the terms and conditions of the license, try to negotiate what you require as part of the license.
This means understanding how digital content is used in your library and organization, who’s using that licensed content, and where they’re using it (e.g., on the library’s physical premises or remotely from their homes or while traveling abroad).
3. Library Provisions in Copyright Statutes Generally Apply to Specific Kinds of Libraries
Provisions in copyright statutes for libraries (which allow certain reproduction without permission) are generally for specific kinds of libraries. They 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 that:
- Have collections that are open to the public, or
- Available not only to researchers affiliated with the library or archive 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
- Isn’t established or conducted for profit, or
- Doesn’t form a part of, or is not administered or directly or indirectly controlled by, a body that’s established or conducted for profit
in which is held and maintained a collection of documents and other materials that’s open to the public or to researchers.
4. Fair Use or Fair Dealing Is Intentionally Ambiguous
Fair use (U.S,) or fair dealing (Canada and other countries) may never provide a definitive answer to whether content can be used without permission. Fair use or fair dealing is intentionally ambiguous. It’s intended to provide flexibility to apply to a number of different uses of content. The distinction between fair use and infringement isn’t straightforward and may take some copyright wisdom and experience to delineate.
Neither the U.S. or Canadian copyright statutes set out an exact percentage of work you can use within the fair use or fair dealing provisions. You need to apply the facts of your particular circumstances to the fair use or fair dealing criteria, and then make a judgment call. Fair use or fair dealing is never a certain thing unless a judge in a court of law makes that determination.
The application of fair use isn’t a risk-free process. But with experience, you’ll become more comfortable determining whether and when fair use or fair dealing applies to your situations.
5. Fair Use or Fair Dealing Applies to All Users and Both For- and Nonprofit Situations
Fair use or fair dealing applies to all users of content, and not just libraries. It may apply in commercial or for-profit situations as well as nonprofit situations. It’s less likely that you can claim the defense of fair use or fair dealing in for-profit situations, but it’s still possible. And not all nonprofit uses of content are fair use or fair 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).
5. Copyright Duration Varies from Country to Country
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 hasn’t 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.
Note, that the U.S., Canada and Mexico have agreed to a copyright duration of life-plus-seventy under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Canada’s copyright duration will remain life-plus-fifty until USMCA takes effect.
If you’re a librarian, consider the Copyright Leadership Certificate program. It’s a fully online program aimed at taking your copyright knowledge to the next level.