Book Review: Copyfraud and Other Abuses of Intellectual Property Law by Jason Mazzone, Stanford Law Books, 2011. By: Mackenzie Brooks
Even though libraries are inextricably linked to the world of intellectual property law, the topic can be daunting for new librarians. Not only do libraries have to be conscious of intellectual property law in their own practices and procedures, but they also have to decide how to handle the use of their materials by patrons. The "rules" of fair use can often only be determined in court, and there can be serious consequences. Most libraries cannot afford that kind of legal battle; understandably, their policies often come from a place of fear and of risk avoidance. While there have been many ideas about how to reform the copyright landscape, such as Creative Commons licenses, Jason Mazzone provides a new perspective. He believes that the real problem with intellectual property law is overreaching on the part of copyright owners to the extent that it impedes creativity and cultural expression. His book, Copyfraud and Other Abuses of Intellectual Property Law, explains the how and why of this problem, and offers potential solutions.
In the first few chapters of the book, Mazzone describes the different ways that copyright holders inflate the terms of their copyright and hinder fair use through fear. Publishers put misleading copyright notices on books in the public domain, forcing faculty and students to purchase copy after copy of something that could be legally reproduced for free. Documentary directors often have to choose between paying prohibitive fees to license video clips or go without using a clip that is integral to their work. These instances of "copyfraud" are numerous and troubling, and libraries do not escape Mazzone's criticism unscathed.
Copyfraud problems exist in many industries and affect many types of creative work, from the crackdowns on trademarks by companies like Disney to the creation of licenses by software companies to override the first sale doctrine. Although some of these problems seem out of the hands of librarians, Mazzone shows how culpable libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions can be when he examines their policies. Archives often require researchers to sign contracts prohibiting the reproduction of documents, even when the holding institution does not own the copyright to the materials in question. Museums will go a step further and charge for reproductions of works of art in the public domain. Such use agreements are the reason that Aaron Swartz is in legal trouble after downloading millions of articles from JSTOR on MIT's campus. Mazzone calls on the organized power of librarians and libraries to fight copyfraud and encourage access to public domain materials, instead of restricting access out of fear.
Mazzone, who recently joined the School of Law at University of Illinois, is a renowned legal scholar, especially known for his work in intellectual property. Although excessive legalese is a danger with this type of book, Mazzone's writing is clear and to the point. Only the last third of the book, where he describes potential solutions, borders on being too technical for the average reader. I recommend this book for all librarians, regardless of their specific field. Understanding the details of intellectual property issues can be a challenge, but Mazzone unpacks them with ease and provides a detailed index and reference list. Even if you do not agree with all of Mazzone's solutions, it is imperative in a time when culture is licensed with increasing frequency that librarians and libraries defend access to their holdings.
Mackenzie Brooks is a Metadata and Discovery Librarian at the Loyola Health Sciences Library.