Tuesday 15 January 2008

We’re All Copyright Managers!

Here is a short article by Lesley Ellen Harris which she has recently posted on a number of mailing lists. In the piece she highlights the increasing need for non-lawyers to understand copyright laws. Take heed!

Librarians Without Lawyers
Librarians Acting as Copyright Managers

Copyright Law Affects Us All

Copyright law is complicated - even for lawyers - and even for copyright lawyers who deal with copyright issues on a daily basis. Yet because of the application of the law in a broad variety of sectors, individuals with no legal backgrounds must learn about copyright law to protect their own works, negotiate permissions for others to use their content, interpret licenses for the use of online content, work within a regime governed by copyright law, and generally manage a variety of copyright issues. Visual artists, writers, photographers and filmmakers are all in professions where their income is based on copyright law. Educators, librarians, archivists and other information professionals are involved in daily activities which must be undertaken within the confines of copyright law. With the Internet, often all of these non-lawyers must understand international copyright treaties and foreign copyright laws as well as the copyright laws in their own countries – at least on a practical level.

Interpreting Fair Use/Dealing

In fact, certain provisions in copyright statutes like the U.S. fair use, or fair dealing, are intended for individuals to interpret. Therefore, if an artist wants to create an artistic work incorporating works of others, that artist must determine whether her use is fair use/dealing as if a judge in a court were deciding that same issue based on those particular circumstances. The same is true for a librarian or educator photocopying print material for use for her patrons or colleagues, or trying to explain to someone why free content obtained on the Internet is not necessarily free to forward (as opposed to forwarding a link to access that same content).

Non-Lawyers Interpreting the Law

Of course, some individuals may be able to benefit from in-house legal advice. Authors of books may sometimes rely upon the advice of their publishers' attorneys. However, many author agreements put the burden on the individual author to ensure that an author's work does not infringe upon the rights of others and that all proper copyright permissions have been obtained. Those who work in universities or larger organizations may have access to their in-house attorneys for advice on copyright issues. But even with such access, many individuals complain that the advice or answers take too long to obtain and that they must analyze the copyright issues themselves in order to get on with their work.

There are many librarians and content owners who continually are negotiating permissions and licenses to copyright-protected works and who have much more practical experience than any attorney. These are often our colleagues with whom we can gain much insight.

Copyright Manager

The reality in copyright-based industries is that individuals must understand copyright law, contract law, litigation issues, risk management and be effective negotiators. Many enterprises now have positions occupied by non-lawyers that relate to copyright. Often, these positions are filled by information professionals. For instance, a Copyright Officer may be responsible for copyright management issues. A Licensing Officer may be responsible for negotiating digital licenses, and explaining the legal uses of digital content within their enterprise. Non-lawyers who are put in a "copyright management" position should take some comfort from the recognition that they are not alone.

The article is published in SLA Information Outlook, January 2008.

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