Copyright & Legal Issues

icon representing digital content issuesCopyright issues are handled differently for Digital Content. Learn about copyright issues relevant to Ebooks and Digital Content from the perspectives of the publisher, author, library and user. Please see the ALA Resources page for a selection of webinars relating to Copyright Issues and digital content.

  1. Library Journal - “ACRL 2011: A Rallying Cry for Leadership and Risk Taking in the Copyright Wars,” April 2011 Two papers presented at the recent 2011 Association of College and Research Libraries Conference in Philadelphia drove home the shaky use and understanding of copyright law on university campuses.

  2. R. Anthony Reese – “The First Sale Doctrine in the Era of Digital Networks” This paper by a law professor from the University of California begins with the origins of copyright law's first-sale doctrine which stems from a 1908 Supreme Court case that allows the owner of any particular lawful copy of a copyrighted work to resell, rent, lend, or give away that copy without the copyright owner's permission. This has been the basis for the legality of library lending, though library lending was in existence for over a hundred years before that. The article concludes that the shift to digital dissemination may give copyright owners more complete control over access to copyrighted works and in particular may eliminate the preservation benefits of widespread distribution of copies that are legally and practically transferable under the first-sale doctrine. The article ends by suggesting some steps that might be taken.

  3. Copyright and Technology--"Are Libraries Locked Out of the E-Book World?" The section of the copyright law (Section 108) that might allow libraries to purchase and lend e-books doesn’t work at the moment because major publishers require digital rights management software on their digital titles, which means libraries are licensing the titles.

  4. The Section 108 Study Group Report, 2008 Subtitle: Independent Report sponsored by The United States Copyright Office and the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program of the Library of Congress. This group included lawyers, representatives of media and software companies, publishers, and academic librarians, and worked on this report for 3 years. While the report lays out the law and the issues clearly, the group’s recommendations were based on consensus, which meant that recommendations like this one were typical:  “Although all agreed that the role of libraries and archives in preserving copyrightable works is a matter of national concern, there was no agreement on whether a recommendation in this area was needed, and, if so, what kind of recommendation would be appropriate.”

  5. US District Court Judge Disallows the Authors Guild/Google settlement The Authors Guild had filed a class action suit against Google over the issue of its scanning copyrighted books without the copyright owners’ permission. The two sides had agreed to a settlement, but the judge did not approve it, saying that it would give Google an unfair business advantage over other companies, and that class members who fail to opt out of the agreement would find that their rights would be decided by Google, and that the settlement would have more chance to be approved if the default position of copyright holders was opt out rather than automatically opting in. The case will have another status hearing in April, 2011, and Google and the Authors Guild continue to negotiate.

  6. Authors Guild Resources Page on the Google Law Suit The Authors Guild has a comprehensive set of links explaining the issues as they apply to writers.

  7. O’Reilly Radar – “Public Domain Here, Under Copyright There” A new wrinkle. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case hinging on an obscure copyright question— can the government take artworks that have lapsed into the public domain, where anybody can use them, and put them back under copyright, where people have to pay to use them? If the law's upheld, it will affect the conductors, performers, educators, libraries, archivists and others who rely on the use and distribution of those foreign works, and create uncertainty as to the status of works currently presumed to be in the public domain. On the other hand, if the law is struck down as unconstitutional, there is the issue of our copyright laws being out of alignment with foreign copyright laws, and the risk that U.S. copyrighted works won't be recognized in European countries if we don't respect their copyrights here.

  8. Copyright Advisory Network: a Community of Librarians, Copyright Scholars, Policy Wonks This comprehensive blog is a great place to start for any copyright questions. It is sponsored by the American Library Association Office for Information Technology Policy.

  9. Digitization and Democracy: The Conflict Between the Amazon kindle License Agreement and the Role of Libraries in a Free Society The article makes a compelling argument on behalf of libraries for changing the current Copyright Law.

  10. William C. Dougherty - "The Copyright Quagmire," - Journal of Academic Librarianship The author reflects on fair use, digital copyright, and the U.S. Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization (TEACH) Act. Particular focus is given to incidents at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) regarding the availability of streaming video on password-protected course Web sites and whether this availability violates copyright law.The benefits of licensing streaming media directly from production and distribution agencies and the effects on libraries and educational institutions of sharing digital media are explored.

  11. Jennifer Howard - "Publishers Grapple with thorny issues of protecting Copyright and going Digital," - The Chronicle The article offers insight into small university publishers' points of view into how best to create and share ebooks and digital content while maintaining their copyright protection.

  12. Jennifer Howard - "What You Don't Know about Copyright but Should," - The Chronicle This is an interview with a lawyer / librarian who specializes in copyright issues at an academic library.  The author and librarian share guidelines for operating safely within copyright laws, while simultaneously discovering innovative ways to share information.

  13. "Libraries, Library Workers, & Copyright Matters," YouTube, 24 Feb. 2011. [VIDEO] Loida Garcia-Febo, Chair of the ALA Intellectual Freedom Round Table talks to Jim Neal about libraries, library workers and copyright matters. Jim Neal is the Vice President for Information Services and University Librarian at Columbia University in the City of New York.

  14. Judge Sets Trial Date in Georgia State University E-reserves Lawsuit. The case, known as Cambridge University Press, et al v. Patton et al, was filed in 2008, alleging that as of February 19, 2008, GSU’s e-reserve system was far too liberal, making over 6,700 total works available for some 600-plus courses, and “inviting students to download, view, and print such materials without permission of the copyright holder.” In June of 2009, however, the court granted a protective order to the GSU defendants, limiting the case to practices after February 17, 2009, when a new copyright policy at GSU was adopted, a ruling that seriously undercut the publishers’ case. Surprisingly, however, the parties have not settled, and observers say that publishers now face a very high bar in order to prevail on the last count of contributory infringement.

  15. One Librarian’s Perspective – “Opening the eBook Market” The author argues that libraries should take more responsibility for its eBook collections by deciding where and how to house content and protect copyright rather than leaving it up to vendors.