L. Ray Patterson Copyright Award

What is the L. Ray Patterson Copyright Award?

The Patterson Copyright Award recognizes contributions of an individual or group that pursues and supports the Constitutional purpose of the U.S. Copyright Law, fair use and the public domain. The award is named after L. Ray Patterson, a key legal figure who   explained and justified the importance of the public domain and fair use. He helped articulate that copyright law was negatively shifting from its original purpose and overly favoring rights of copyright holders. His book, The Nature of Copyright: A Law of Users’ Rights is the definitive book on the constitutional underpinnings of copyright and the critical importance of the public domain.

Sponsored by the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) and the Copyright Advisory Subcommittee, the Patterson award is a crystal trophy.

Who was L. Ray Patterson?

We Stand on the Shoulders of Giants: Tributes to L. Ray Patterson

Ideas, particularly important ideas, are developed over time. When we engage in creative activity, we draw on previously existing ideas; we collaborate, directly or indirectly, with other creative people; and we produce new ideas that, though they may be radical advances, owe a debt to the work of those who came before us. This vision of creativity suggests the fundamental necessity of preserving the information commons. We preserve the commons in order to ensure effective access to information as a way of encouraging continued innovation to develop new ideas.

Although it is important to see ideas as being part of a commons, it is also important to remember that the material in this commons did not just emerge from thin air. Rather, the information commons grows as creative people engage with the ideas available to them and then produce new ideas, leaving their own marks behind.

In any creative endeavor, there are significant figures we might acknowledge for their prior contributions to our work and to our understanding of the world. Indeed, it is an honor for people working in a field to have the opportunity both to acknowledge that their own work owes a debt to those who came before them and to thank their mentors and inspirations. We stand on the shoulders of giants. Without them, we could never achieve so much.

L. Ray Patterson, Pope Brock Professor of Law at the University of Georgia, is one of the giants in scholarship on copyright law and an inspiration to those who would protect the public interest in the information commons. He is known across disciplines for his work on the history and nature of copyright (which he calls a law of users' rights), for his support of access to information and his opposition to excessive privileges for publishers, and for his collegiality and accessibility to other scholars working in the field.

At the American Library Association's 2002 Annual Conference in Atlanta, ALA's Office for Information Technology Policy was honored to recognize Professor Patterson for his unparalleled contributions to our understanding of copyright and for his unfailing support for the public interest in information. On behalf of OITP, Professor Lawrence Lessig of Stanford University Law School, himself a noted authority on intellectual property and information policy issues, presented Professor Patterson with an award named in his honor: "The L. Ray Patterson Award in Support of Users' Rights." As a show of appreciation for Professor Patterson's work, the award will continue to bear his name when it is bestowed on others in the future.

In this issue of info-commons.org, in tribute to L. Ray Patterson, we share with our readers comments on his contributions. It is fitting, and a testament to Professor Patterson's influence, that this tribute includes testimonials from people who are important copyright scholars in their own right: Professors Kenneth D. Crews, Lolly Gasaway, Peter Jaszi, and David Lange. Each of these accomplished scholars provides us with a vision of L. Ray Patterson's influence that goes beyond simply acknowledging his scholarship, but addresses more deeply his commitment to his ideals and his generosity of spirit in collaborating with others. Upon reading this material (and upon reading some of Professor Patterson's writings referenced in the bibliography), we believe you will agree that L. Ray Patterson is indeed a giant in this world, and that standing upon his shoulders may extend our reach immensely.

Frederick Emrich

Past Award Recipients


Copyright Review Management System, Melissa Levine, Principal Investigator


No recipient


Georgia K. Harper, Scholarly Communications Advisor at the University of Texas at Austin Libraries


No recipient


Winston Tabb, Dean of Libraries and Museums at Johns Hopkins University


Peter Suber, JD, PhD., Faculty Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, senior researcher at Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), Fellow at Harvard University Library’s Office for Scholarly Communication, member of the Board of Enabling Open Scholarship and Open Access Project Director at Public Knowledge


Fred von Lohmann, Senior Staff Attorney at Electronic Frontier Foundation


Jack Bernard, Assistant General Counsel and Adjunct Faculty at University of Michigan


Peggy Hoon, Special Assistant to the Provost for Copyright Administration at North Carolina State University


Peter Jaszi , Professor of Law and Director of the Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Law Clinic at American University’s Washington College of Law


Prudence S. Adler, Associate Executive Director, Federal Relations and Information Policy for the Association of Research Libraries


Kenneth D. Crews, Director, Columbia University Copyright Advisory Office.