Saturday, September 18, 2010

Copyright Part I

As part of my undergraduate degree, I obtained a minor in Library Science. I distinctly remember that in every single Library Science course I took, the prof always covered copyright. Towards the end of my degree, I started to groan and roll my eyes when I saw it on the syllabus. Yet all these discussions of copyright did not give as solid an understanding as the information from Stanford that we read for this week. I thought this piece did an excellent job of discussing all components of copyright law, but particularly fair use (which is usually where a vast majority of copyright cases/discussions are centered on). The following quote summarized the four points of fair use succinctly and understandably, "As a general rule, if you are using a small portion of somebody else's work in a non-competitive way and the purpose of your use is to benefit the public, you're on pretty safe ground." (Copyright FAQ, Section B)

As much as we would like to think that Fair Use can be boiled down to this statement, we all know that it's as clear as mud. The authors of the piece from Stanford also do a great job in the section on Fair Use of explaining that these are the guidlines for fair use, but it is ultimately up to a judge to decide whether a use of a copyrighted work falls into this arena or not. I felt that the inclusion of court cases was particularly helpful - it took the theoretical principles of Fair Use and put them into real life contexts. If only my undergrad prof would have used a similar pedagogy, I wouldn't have come to loathe the discussion of copyright so much.

Then, just when I think I might actually have a working understanding of copyright, the Executive Summary of the Section 108 Study Group confuses me all over again. There's no doubt that sections of copyright law need to be revised in this age of digital content creation. But what should this look like? The Section 108 Study Group spent 3 years conversing about what changes should be made to just 1 section of copyright law, and their findings are Greek to me. One issue that makes enough sense to me for me to form an opinion about is "Preservation of Publicly Available Online Content." (Page viii) Certainly the writers of the original Copyright Act of the 70s were not thinking about libraries/archives role in preserving our class blog (or any of the other information publicly available online). The Study Group's recommendations that libraries/archives should be able to "capture and reproduce available online content for preservation purposes" (page viii) is in line with the currently stated exceptions in Section 108 that allow libraries/archives to make copies of copyrighted works in order to make them available for future scholars. However, this statement got me thinking about copyright in general as it relates to online content. Copyright is difficult enough to enforce when you're holding a book in your hand that clearly states the author. But what about 140 character Tweets that may or may not be attributed to the creator's actual name.... Does the Tweeter have copyright protection over his or her content? Talk about a whole 'nother can of worms!

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