April 19, 2018

Reference BackTalk: Crash Course in Copyright

By Cheryl Miller Maddox

Making sense of copyright

Do your patrons ever ask you why only a portion of the text from an ebook may be copied and printed? Do students want to know why certain databases can be accessed in the library but not remotely? Is a library user surprised to find that 30 copies of a musical score cannot be photocopied for distribution without obtaining permission from the publisher? Because U.S. copyright law is complex and murky, questions about copyright present a challenge to librarians both in interpretation and in application.

The concept of “fair use” is frequently cited regarding these and other copyright questions, but even lawyers agree that fair use is difficult to understand. So what do those of us who are not lawyers do when tackling copyright questions? The four web sites discussed here should help you keep abreast of the latest news and assist you in your quest for answers to copyright queries.

But before turning to these sites, be sure to also check out Joan M. Reitz’s Online Dictionary of Library and Information Science, a terrific place to start for a basic orientation to the vast subject of copyright. Now, on to the big four.

The University of Texas System’s CRASH COURSE IN COPYRIGHT site is tailored to the university community, but anyone can benefit from its overview of basic copyright concepts. Fair use is the first topic presented, along with a reminder that individuals may be (and have been) sued for copyright infringement. So as much as we may be perplexed by what is or is not permissible to copy or reproduce, we are all obligated to follow the law.

The site’s Four Factor Fair Use Test provides guidelines for determining whether use of copyrighted material is permissible. Factor 1 seeks to ascertain if the material is being used for nonprofit, educational, or personal use rather than for commercial purposes; Factor 2 asks if the work is published or unpublished, factual or fiction; Factor 3 inquires if you are using a large portion, including the “heart of the work,” or only a small amount; and, finally, Factor 4 seeks to elucidate the effect this kind of use would have on the market for the original. The site also details copyright rules for creating multimedia, issues affecting the digital library, management of copyright, and creation of online presentations. An online tutorial is provided at the end of the explanations to help users learn or review the contents of the Crash Course.

If you wish to read an official explanation of copyright basics, go directly to the source: U.S. COPYRIGHT OFFICE. Circular 1, a 12-page PDF file, not only covers what is and isn’t permissible to copy or reproduce but also outlines how to obtain a copyright for one’s own work. A discussion of which types of works are not eligible for copyright protection is also included. The U.S. Copyright Office’s extensive FAQ page further covers a host of topics, including “How Long Does Copyright Protection Last?” and “Copyright and Digital Files,” and furnishes a list of definitions.

Ball State University (BSU) Libraries’ COPYRIGHT AND INTELLECTUAL PROPERTIES OFFICE is another useful university-based site. This page was created by Dr. Fritz Dolak, Copyright and Intellectual Property Manager of BSU’s Copyright Office. While much of the information here is also found on the two previously discussed sites, BSU’s site contains a number of unique items, such as an instructive PowerPoint presentation on the Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization Act of 2002, or TEACH Act. This tutorial discusses the TEACH Act as it specifically affects the use of copyrighted materials in distance-education courses. In addition, there are links to free material such as royalty-free music for teaching and learning and royalty-free pictures. Another useful feature is the “In the News” section, which provides links to recent articles on copyright-related topics.

The not-for-profit COPYRIGHT CLEARANCE CENTER helps universities, corporations, and other organizations obtain permission to use works published worldwide. The “Copyright Central” section of the site provides “Copyright Basics” not quite as detailed as the U.S. Copyright Office yet more thorough than the University of Texas System’s Crash Course. The “Tools and Guides” tab includes downloadable guides for academic institutions on interlibrary loan, the TEACH Act, and the use of course-management systems and electronic reserves.

The section “On Copyright: News and Commentary from the Copyright Clearance Center” summarizes copyright issues in the news. Another section, “©News Archive,” supplies links to current copyright-related stories from other web sites and the press back to April 2007. It is more extensive than the news section of BSU’s web site. Sources cited here include CNET, Forbes, the New York Times, and the Associated Press.

Author Information
Cheryl Miller Maddor is head of public services, Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis


E-Reference Ratings

Ever dreamed of a tool that would assess all the great databases out there—all at once? Your wish has come true with the launch of E-Reference Ratings in LJ‘s Reference Supplement, packaged with this issue. This one-of-a-kind feature will help you make smart purchasing decisions based on a wide range of criteria and an even wider range of subject categories. After the initial print launch, it will continue to grow, both in size and in substance, on www.libraryjournal.com and in the print version of LJ. So stop dreaming and turn to the supplement now!