Copyright Salon Notes

Copyright discussion notes, Radical Reference Salon 4/29/07

Laura Quilter conducted a discussion of copyright. We went around the table and people brought up copyright interests, concerns, and questions.

A few key issues were discussed, with elaboration below: Copyright paranoia; struggles to get permissions; concerns regarding electronic reserves; contract vs. copyright law; definitions of 'good faith belief'; works-for-hire; use fees.

Laura expressed concern that copyright paranoia hampers librarians and patrons even more than the law itself, and offered her motto: "It is better to do and ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission."

One librarian described the current climate as McCarthyite, with the RIAA threatening lawsuits against students and campuses for downloading music. She also discussed the Brooklyn College efforts to develop a campus-wide policy regarding e-reserve. She expressed a need for clear guidelines to aid paraprofessionals, and noted the increasing complexity of copyright running parallel to the de-professionalization of the library.

Another librarian expressed concern for 'the little guy.' How do we balance copyright protections for producers of small creative works? She also expressed frustration with librarians being put in the position of defenders and police officers for corporate content producers.

Another librarian related the struggle to get copyright permission to use four lines of a Wallace Stegner poem on a bookmark for a reading program at Brooklyn Public Library. After securing permission from the rights-holder, she later received a letter demanding a $75 payment from the publishing house. The man who had first granted permission had died, the office could not find the paperwork granting free use of the content, so demanded payment.

Another librarian discussed copyright in relation to the library model of accessing databases. If we look at the library as a repository of information, we pay for access to copyrighted material. This generated a discussion of database contracts that heavily restrict use of licensed content. We discussed the difference between contract and copyright law in relation to database content. Contract law does not necessarily supplant copyright law.

Another librarian discussed the policy at her school that the burden of copyright falls on the professor, a model that limits librarian participation in copyright decisions.

We discussed college and university libraries' favored status for fair use in an educational context, which actually gives us a lot of leeway if we have a 'good faith' belief that we are in compliance. This led to a discussion of what constitutes good faith belief, including a discussion of current Orphan Works legislation.

We discussed use fees for archives and historical collections, including the need to track down copyright ownership for photos. How do we handle works-for hire?

We discussed the ways copyright and fair use are left intentionally vague, so that we are left to work in the murky area of principle. Most copyright talk comes from the enforcement perspective, but that doesn’t mean We should be careful about making ourselves the police for industry.

The focus on copyright has been to the exclusion of discussion about other important rights in libraries, including the right to privacy.

submitted by Emily