ALA announces 2016 winner of L. Ray Patterson Copyright Award

For Immediate Release
Tue, 05/10/2016


Jazzy Wright

Press Officer

ALA Washington Office


WASHINGTON, D.C.—The American Library Association (ALA) Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) today named the Copyright Review Management System (CRMS)—a product developed by staff at the University of Michigan’s HathiTrust digital library with the contributions of volunteers at libraries across the country— this year’s winner of the L. Ray Patterson Copyright Award
The annual award recognizes the contributions of an individual or group that demonstrates dedication to a balanced U.S. Copyright system through advocacy for a robust fair use doctrine and public domain. The award is named after L. Ray Patterson, a key legal figure who explained and justified the importance of users’ rights to information. Patterson helped articulate that copyright law was shifting from its original purpose and favoring the interests of copyright holders over those of the general public. 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.
CRMS is a system to determine the public domain status of hundreds of thousands works in the HathiTrust digital library—a large corpus of over 13.7 million works from the University of Michigan Library collection, the collections of partner research and other libraries and the Internet Archive. The CRMS project is led by Melissa Levine, Lead Copyright Officer and librarian at the University of Michigan. Beginning with a National Leadership Grant from IMLS in 2008-2011, the University of Michigan Library and programming staff began creating the investigative process and necessary software for making public domain determinations. Due to the large scale of the project, the CRMS relies on a collaborative network of trained volunteers—primarily staff from research library partners across the country—to make the determinations. Thus far, over 323,334 works have been identified by CRMS as works in the public domain. Works in the public domain are no longer protected by copyright and can be freely used by anyone. The full text of these works is accessible to anyone at HathiTrust.
Establishing the copyright status of a work is an involved process due to the lack of authoritative registration records, the changing legal requirements for protection, the complexities of publishing status, and other idiosyncratic matters. CRMS workflow makes elucidating the copyright status of a work easier because it “integrates the potential of research methods, technology, law, and transformed library services,” remarked Kenny Crews, a former winner of the Patterson award and attorney and Professor of Law at Columbia University. 
Sharon Farb, UCLA associate university librarian, said her library contributes trained volunteer reviewers to the CRMS review effort because “this collaborative community based approach and the results are expanding awareness and significantly more content in the public domain.” 
Laura Quilter, copyright and information policy librarian at the University of Massachusetts, noted that the University of Michigan library has taken on “the burden of assuming risk and demonstrating courage in the face of uncertainty.  That is all too rare in both librarianship and law,” she said.  “Its exercise on behalf of the public domain—the public's domain, its property—deserves honor.”
Peter Hirtle, Affiliate Fellow, at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society remarked “Among his many accomplishments, Patterson recognized the critical importance of the public domain. I would be hard-pressed to think of a group that has done more to assist librarians in identifying, understanding, and expanding the public domain than CRMS.”   
Additional information on the L. Ray Patterson Copyright Award is on the ALA Web site.