A copyright office and team are key elements for copyright compliance and legally using licensed electronic resources. Think about your copyright issues and how you currently manage them. Would you benefit from a central copyright office and a team of knowledgeable copyright persons to provide practical solutions to the questions and issues that arise? Note that a copyright office and team is generally separate from a legal department.
The term “copyright office” often refers to the copyright leader, other copyright team members and any supporting infrastructure. It may or may not include physical premises that house the copyright office and team.
As an example, colleges and universities have copyright offices to deal with:
- Copyright permissions
- Digitizing collections
- Providing support to students, faculty and curriculum development teams
- Authors' rights
- And more
Larger corporations also have copyright offices and teams. Even if you're in a smaller organization, consider establishing a physical or virtual copyright office and gather copyright-focused members to be part of your team.
See below for a description of the University of Michigan Library Copyright Office.
Establishing a Copyright Office
Issues to consider when establishing a copyright office include:
- How can you consolidate all your enterprise’s copyright efforts into one person or team?
- Who is the best person to lead your copyright compliance efforts?
- Do you need a part-time or full-time copyright leader and team members?
- Do you need a physical copyright office or offices?
- What budget do you have for your copyright office or team?
- What credentials does your copyright leader need?
Responsibility of Copyright Office
What responsibility and authority will your copyright office or team have (e.g., negotiating and/or signing licenses for electronic resources or interpreting fair use)?
- Will the copyright leader be responsible for raising awareness in the organization about copyright and licensing issues, and educating about legal uses of copyright materials and licensed electronic resources?
- What title will the copyright leader have (e.g., Copyright Officer, Copyright Librarian, Copyright and Licensing Manager, Scholarly Communications Librarian)?
- Will the lead person require copyright education and training? What about other copyright team members? Is this external or internal training? How will the team have a standard breadth and depth of copyright knowledge? How will team members provide consistent solutions to copyright problems?
- Will an attorney be part of the copyright office or be accessible on an as-needed basis?
Appointing a Copyright Leader
The copyright leader is generally not a legal advisor and doesn't provide legal opinions on copyright protection, use of materials and legal advice on license agreements. The role of the officer is to streamline the copyright efforts within the enterprise so all copyright-related matters are organized and administered in a centralized fashion.
Is there a single person responsible for coordinating copyright issues in your college or corporation or is copyright responsibility decentralized? For example:
- Marketing deals with clearing rights for use of images in publications
- Your resource center addresses photocopying documents for internal distribution
- The web design department handles issues like digitizing works and hyperlinking
It's important that these various departments communicate about their copyright efforts, employ consistent procedures and not duplicate efforts. Such coordination will save your enterprise money in terms of both employee time and paying for copyright permissions.
If your copyright leader is a librarian, see A Simple Guide to Copyright for Librarians.
Your First Step Toward a Copyright Office: Appoint a Copyright Leader
Your first step in managing copyright is to appoint a copyright leader and perhaps also create a copyright office and team to coordinate copyright efforts in your enterprise.
The copyright leader is generally not a legal advisor and doesn't provide legal opinions on copyright protection or use of materials. (Sometimes the copyright leader has a law degree but isn't in a job position acting as the organization's attorney.)
The primary role of the copyright leader is to streamline the copyright efforts within the enterprise so all copyright-related matters are organized and administered in a centralized fashion. This may be a part- or full-time position.
See our article Are You the Go-To Copyright Person?
Creating a Copyright Team
The copyright leader’s first task is to create a copyright team, whether centralized in the copyright office or a decentralized copyright committee. This team should include people from various sections of your enterprise who:
- Currently deal with copyright issues
- Create copyright-protected materials
- Distribute or use such materials
The team may include those who acquire resources and are involved with negotiating and interpreting license agreements for the use of electronic resources such as periodicals, journals and databases.
Also consider that representing the diversity within the organization’s copyright stakeholders (e.g., racial, gender, disability and career experience) will bring a variety of perspectives to the discussion of copyright issues within your copyright team, leading to more inclusive outcomes.
If you have in-house counsel, include that person on the team (if they agree). If you don't have in-house counsel, establish a relationship with a copyright lawyer you can consult as necessary. Since copyright issues often involve practical solutions to recurring situations, consult the lawyer periodically and keep the answers available for when situations recur.
You'll find over time that most copyright questions that arise repeat themselves again and again. However, for those tricky questions where you cannot provide a practical solution or that may involve litigation, a copyright lawyer is key.
Case Study: University of Michigan Library Copyright Office
The University of Michigan Library Copyright Office is an example of a university copyright office and team. It's staffed by a director, three copyright specialists and paid interns. The Office provides information and education about sharing and using copyright-protected materials through a wide range of strategies. In addition to the many resources on their website, they offer consultations (but not legal advice) by email or in person, as well as workshops (some available to the public) and events like copyright camps and trivia nights. The Office also engages in advocacy "for copyright policy that benefits scholarship, research, the library, and the university." You can find more information at the link above.
Tips for Establishing Your Copyright Office
The following are three tips for establishing your copyright office:
- Designate a senior management champion for copyright issues
- Determine the responsibilities, experience and competencies the position of copyright leader requires and find the best person for this role
- Whether your copyright team is centralized or decentralized, ensure it represents all stakeholder departments and the breadth of copyright expertise in your organization
Our Copyright Leadership Certificate provides a strong foundation in copyright decision making skills. Students learn copyright principles, with the primary focus on practical skills that can be adapted to your specific copyright and licensing circumstances. Ask us about how you
and your copyright team can benefit from the Copyright Leadership Certificate.