Copyright literacy is important for creators and publishers, librarians and other information workers and the public.
What Is Copyright Literacy?
Literacy is defined as competence or knowledge in a specific area. Copyright literacy is more specific. It refers to important competencies and knowledge that include:
- Identifying copyright-protected materials
- Navigating fair use and fair dealing and other applicable special provisions (often called exceptions) in copyright law
- Obtaining permissions and licenses where necessary
- Complying with terms and agreements in negotiable and nonnegotiable license agreements
- Recognizing infringement of copyright law
Many of us are exposed to copyright issues in our daily lives, often without awareness or thought. With the proliferation of internet-connected devices and digital access and sharing, we have the products of others’ creative expression in the palms of our hands — quite literally at our fingertips.
Copyright literacy helps to ensure that:
- We respect the rights of creators and content owners
- Our own rights are protected
- We’re aware of the rules to legally and ethically use protected works (we’re exposed to copyright education)
- We know where to obtain further information about copyright compliance
Test your copyright literacy with our Copyright Myths and Facts Quiz.
Copyright as a Life Skill
Maria Pallante, former U.S. Register for Copyright, describes understanding copyright as a life skill, akin to reading a map or using GPS. She asserts that at least a basic understanding of copyright law is required for everyone and that the level of copyright knowledge needed varies depending on your field.
It’s safe to say that nearly everyone will encounter a copyright issue at some point. It may be through accessing content on sites such as YouTube, or viewing and downloading videos and music. Or it may be while searching online for images and photographs to include in presentation slides you’re creating.
It’s important to know and understand the role of copyright law and how to legally use copyright-protected content.
Copyright Literacy in the Library
Many believe that copyright literacy begins in the library. First librarians and information professionals must be educated about the principles of copyright law and licensing digital content, most importantly on a practical level so they can answer daily copyright and license compliance questions. Second, as gatekeepers to content, librarians have the obvious position of teaching others about copyright law and legally using content licensed from aggregators and online publishers.
The International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) recently published its policy statement on copyright education and copyright literacy. The statement is aimed at at governments, libraries, library associations and library educators. It emphasizes the importance of copyright literacy within libraries. The report states that “librarians and other information workers need to be copyright literate.”
What does this mean?
IFLA defines copyright literacy as:
“Sufficient copyright knowledge to be able to take well informed decisions on how to use copyrighted materials.” It also includes “understanding the structure, functioning and implications of the copyright system, as laws, practices, and user expectations evolve. Copyright education is the process of developing and updating copyright literacy.”
The statement sets out examples where copyright literacy is key in public and school libraries, such as for making copies for educational uses and in accessible formats for people with disabilities. It also provides examples for libraries that have broader roles such as mass-digitization projects and negotiating licenses for digital content such as electronic databases and periodicals. The report states,
“Lack of knowledge may result in mis-application of the law, and lead either to infringement, or overly restrictive limits on what users can do.”
Librarians are often the copyright leaders in their organizations and educate and influence others, thereby shaping institutional policies and use of copyright-protected content.
At the same time, the statement explains how copyright knowledge varies from librarian to librarian and that there is an important need for copyright training among information workers. It states,
“… a greater level of copyright literacy within the profession as a whole will mean that more users’ questions can be answered in a quick, confident and well-informed way.”
The IFLA policy statement urges all to be aware of and support copyright literacy among all information workers.
Copyright Literacy Includes Skills To Prevent Copyright Infringement
Knowledge and understanding can prevent infringement, which is the unauthorized or illegal use of copyright-protected materials. But it’s also important to realize that not understanding copyright and fear of infringement can prevent you from using readily available materials in new and inventive ways.
The wealth of creative content at our disposal increases daily. Copyright literacy is beneficial not only as a form of protection, but also as a means of ensuring that we’re all able to fully and effectively utilize that content.