Passing Angles

Angles on Basketball Court

On December 20, 2010, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) published a new report on Fair Use Challenges in Academic and Research Libraries.  This report results from a collaborative partnership between the ARL, the Center for Social Media and the Washington College of Law Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property.  Investigators spoke with sixty-five librarians on the application of fair use doctrine and copyright law.

To be honest, I am relieved that other librarians are as confused as I am about copyright law.  Fair use  is intentionally fuzzy.  Court decisions are truly on a case-by-case basis.  And here we are, rooted in our missions to faciliate teaching, research and learning, and someone approaches us about using copyrighted material.  (Or not.  Sometimes we hear that faculty have used copyrighted material in a manner that seems dangerously carefree).  The person in front of us wants a hardline answer. 

Librarians… found it frustrating not to be able to draw on a consensus about fair use at copyright workshops for faculty (and similar settings), and regretted having instead to use phrases such as “probably ok, but different people say different things” and “you should be in the clear, but some librarians don’t share my view” or “you should probably get permission, though there are some who would say you’re OK.”

The biggest concern is e-reserves– what kind of materials, how much of a work, how long to allow access, etc.  Most of us feel unprepared to give guidance on these issue.  I was amused by the finding that librarians make up their own rules, imposing arbitrary limits in order to give a definitive answer.

License agreements, of course, are more restrictive than copyright.  One of the “Next Steps” in this report is to encourage librarians to assert fair use rights when negotiating licenses with vendors.  Doesn’t that sound like fun?  Especially when you are uncertain about the legality of your request? 

This report is an easy read and well worth your time.  I followed my reading with a video from the TED talks.  Margaret Gould Stewart gives this six-minute talk on how YouTube deals with copyright.  Enjoy!

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