August 27, 2014

Creating a Copyright Team | ALA Annual 2012

A campus copyright officer or scholarly communication librarian is how many colleges and universities handle the growing role of academic libraries in guiding faculty fair use. But what if your institution can’t or won’t fund such a position? The University of Missouri libraries have implemented an alternative approach by constructing a copyright team composed of existing staff.

Cindy Thompson, director of public services, and Chris LeBeau, assistant teaching professor/business librarian, explained how it works during a panel called Campus Copyright Initiatives: Roles and Opportunities for Libraries at the American Library Association conference in Anaheim. The first step, Thompson explained, was to identify librarians who were already interested in, and knowledgeable about, copyright. Together they created a guide to copyright, so faculty members don’t need to hunt all over the web for information. The guide is Creative Commons licensed, so it can be adopted and adapted by other libraries. The team also reviewed all the University’s forms and policies, a daunting task.

They then created an email distribution list to discuss incoming copyright questions and, busy as they all are, committed to drop everything to answer it. While individual team members can answer the really obvious queries on their own, anything that requires a judgment call is hashed out on the list before an answer is provided. As a last resort, if they don’t know or can’t agree, the team can contact the University’s legal counsel. (So far, in two years of operation, the team has met with counsel only once, for a two hour question and answer session.)

The team is not without its challenges. Disagreements between the committee members are a source of stress, and the team’s relationship with Information Services, both physically and operationally distant from the library, is “complicated.” The team must be careful to present information to faculty without giving legal advice, which it is not allowed to do—the key, says Thompson, is to suggest alternatives and let them choose. And the university counsel nixed the ARL best practices and takes a more stringent view of transformative use than they would like.

However, even with all those hassles, the team approach has advantages besides saving a salary. It offers “checks and balances”, Thompson said, as a range of perspectives on copyright are represented. And because more people are involved and bring their personal networks to the table, it not only raises awareness, it ensures that most people on campus have someone they feel comfortable approaching with a question because they already know them.

To extend this benefit even further, the team recruited two “copyright advocates” for each school, at least one of whom is at associate dean level. These advocates are not “experts or enforcers,” LeBeau explains, they simply listen for mentions of copyright questions in the campus conversation, and point the mentioners to the copyright team as a resource.

The team also provides annual workshops as well as on-demand presentations to various groups, and an institutional membership to the Center for Intellectual Property, and integrated copyright into an optional faculty online training certification for Blackboard. It also helps faculty find workarounds, alternatives, and licenses.

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Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Senior Editor, News and Features of Library Journal.

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