Copyright Issues Addressed in Workshop

Posted: May 29, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By David Driver

The work of librarians, like many other fields, is changing rapidly in an era of high-speed access. And with those changes comes the responsibility of being up to speed on copyright laws.

Rosemary Chase, university copyright officer, addressed some of those issues in a recent workshop titled “Copyright Issues in Academic Libraries.”

To have a copyright in the first place, Chase explained, the work must be an original expression and fixed in a tangible form.

So when does something fall under copyright law?

“It begins at the moment the original work begins, once pen hits paper,” said Chase. However, she added, “Facts can not be copyrighted. If newspapers were filled with just facts, we would need just one newspaper. But newspapers are expressions” of talented individuals.

Other items that cannot be copyrighted are titles, names and short phrases and ideas, such as those used for novels or movies. Items that are no longer copyrighted and are in the public domain include anything published in 1922 or before, according to Chase.

There is an exception in copyright called “fair use.” “Fair use let’s you use others’ work, but not forever,” said Chase.

Mason applies the fair use factors on a case-by-case basis, and the university recently revised its guidelines as a result of a complaint against Cornell University.

In March 2006, Cornell received a letter of complaint from the Association of American Publishers (AAP) alleging copyright violations. The matter was resolved in September 2006 without a lawsuit because of the jointly-written “Cornell Electronic Course Content Copyright Guidelines” accepted by both Cornell University and the AAP. (See

Mason’s fair use guidelines appear on the University Libraries Copyright Office web site under “policies.” The following is roughly taken from the Fair Use Statute (Section 107) and has been incorporated into copyright guidelines at Cornell and Mason, among other universities:

When deciding whether your use is a fair use or not, the following four factors should be considered:

1. The purpose of your use

  • educational versus commercial

2. The nature of the work to be copied

  • fact versus fiction

  • published versus unpublished

3. The amount of the work you wish to use in relation to the work as a whole

  • are you excerpting the “guts” of the work?

4. The effect of your use on the market for, or value of the work as a whole

  • will your use replace the purchase of the work?

  • will your use improve the market for the work or harm it?

All four factors have equal weight; educational purpose is not always fair use. In addition, for a use to be considered fair, a complete citation must be included on the first page of the material. Even public domain sources must be correctly attributed. Online sources should have a complete URL address.

When a proposed use of any copyrighted work in a course appears to go beyond fair use limitations, the Libraries Copyright Office will seek the required clearance for educational use, and pay any applicable royalty fees. The Libraries Copyright Office requests that all citation information be provided, as well as URLs for linking to off-campus resources.

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