Libraries and the Internet Toolkit

Copyright & Fair Use

Understanding copyright is an everyday concern for all librarians. The high demand of a digital environment makes it more difficult for librarians to keep abreast on copyright laws, how they evolve, and its implications. Copyright laws strongly impact the nature and extent on how libraries provide information services to their users. Since libraries play an important role in a well informed Society, librarians try to balance copyrights laws, technology, and access to information.
The Copyright Act of 1976 is a United States copyright law and remains the primary basis of copyright law in the United States, as amended by several later enacted copyright provisions: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act and Copyright term Extension Act. The Copyright Act of 1976 spells out the basic rights of copyright holders, codified the doctrine of "fair use," and for most new copyrights adopted a unitary term based on the date of the author's death rather than the prior scheme of fixed initial and renewal terms.
According to the U.S. Copyright Office of the Library of Congress, “copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U. S. Code) to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.”For a work to be "original," it must meet two qualifications: (1) it cannot be copied from another work; and (2) it must exhibit at least a small amount of creativity. 
Under section 102 of the Copyright Act, copyright protects a wide range of works. The principal categories for works of authorship are as follows: 
  • literary works
  • musical works, including any accompanying words
  • dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  • pantomimes and choreographic works
  • pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • sound recordings
  • architectural works
The Copyright Act grants five rights to a copyright owner, which are listed below: 
  • the right to reproduce the copyrighted work; 
  • the right to prepare derivative works based upon the work; 
  • the right to distribute copies of the work to the public; 
  • the right to perform the copyrighted work publicly; and 
  • the right to display the copyrighted work publicly. 
The rights are not without limit, however, as they are specifically limited by "fair use" and several other specific limitations set forth in the Copyright Act. 
Codified under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, “fair use” is the most challenging aspect of intellectual property that librarians struggle when dealing with copyrighted materials and the need for the public to have access to that information. Fair use is a copyright principle based on the idea that the public is entitled to freely use portions of copyrighted works for educational and informational purposes. Under fair use, someone other than the copyright holder may freely copy, display, perform, and distribute copyrighted material, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research.  To help determine whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use, librarians need to assess four factors outlined in the copyright law.
The four factors of fair use are:
  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature, or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and 
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
This site includes the work that Michael Brewer and the Copyright Advisory Subcommittee of the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy have developed in creating tools to educate librarians, educators and others about copyright. It includes the Public Domain slider, the Section 108 Spinner, the Fair Use Evaluator, and the Exceptions for Instructors eTool. These tools are all available online for anyone to use or link to.
This report summarizes how librarians struggle to meet the missions of U.S. academic and research libraries, interpret fair use, and other copyright issues. This is a three stage study project funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 
This site offers information on the CONTU (National Commission on New Technological Uses of Copyright Works) guidelines to assist librarians and copyright proprietors in understanding the amount of photocopying for use in interlibrary loan arrangements permitted under the copyright law.
This site encourages librarians to discuss copyright concerns and seek feedback and advice from fellow librarians and copyright specialists. The Network is sponsored by the American Library Association Office for Information Technology Policy
Great site covering all the basics of the copyright, FAQs, links to others sites, and resources for librarians.   
This site offers information on copyright policy, copyright clearance services, and copyright training and tutorials. Also includes topics related to copyrighted materials, whether in e-reserves, on course management sites, on other sites, or in face-to-face classroom settings. 
This site was developed by Harvard University in conjunction with (Electronic Information for Libraries).  It aims to inform librarians about copyright law in general, as well as the aspects of copyright law that most affect libraries, especially those in developing and transition countries. 
This brochure contains basic information on some of the most important legislative provisions and other documents dealing with reproduction of copyrighted materials by librarians and educators.
Wherry, Timothy Lee. Intellectual Property: Everything the Digital-Age Librarian Needs to Know. Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 2008
Lipinski, Tomas A. The Complete Copyright Liability Handbook for Librarians and Educators. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2006
Simpson, Carol. Copyright for Schools: A Practical Guide. 4th Ed. Worthington, OH: Linworth Publishing, 2005
Heller, James S. The Librarian’s Copyright Companion. Buffalo, NY: William S. Hein & Co., 2004