Ambiguity, Even at a Law Library

How important are institutions like DPLA and HathiTrust in the struggle to transfer the benefits of fair use to digital libraries?

As many others have cited, unless institutions (such as DPLA and HathiTrust) stand up and push the boundaries for what is currently accepted under copyright laws, there will not be any progress.  Dealing with electronic and digital texts is a whole new terrain that users are still navigating (and that publishers are capitalizing on.)  Case in point: last summer I interned at the Minnesota State Library.  One of my jobs was working with one of the Librarians to help circulate relevant online journal articles, case publications, and annotated bibliographies of books. 

The Librarian, who has been at the Law Library for his entire 30 year career, was still unsure about the restriction of sending out materials electronically to interested parties from the publications; even though the MN State Judicial System was a subscriber to all the materials.  He operated under the assumption that was in place when he received the materials in hard-copy, that if you put a “stamp” saying that the materials are protected by copyright law that you are able to distribute them to any interested member of the staff.  We had numerous discussions about whether or not this was the ethical way to proceed because there are so many ways of interpreting the current laws.

 If a career law librarian is unsure about the protocols and procedures for distributing materials (to staff of a subscribing institution no less!)  it is not hard to imagine an assistant English professor (to borrow Stevie’s example) at a University having doubts about what is protected by copyright laws.  We need organizations fighting for fair use for digital works, because ultimately they will help give voice to those people who will benefit the most.


4 responses to “Ambiguity, Even at a Law Library

  1. I used to do the same thing at Epic. I would send interesting articles to teams that I thought might appreciate the content. Now that I’m older and wiser, I see that I was just violating copyright law on a weekly basis…

  2. Copyright and Fair Use are really complex issues and, while deemed important by many (dare I say all?) librarians, the intricacies can be off putting. One thing I hope to see come out of the work of organizations like the DPLA is information that clarifies the process of negotiation and litigation, as well as provides guidelines as to how libraries can proceed in cases and situations where copyright law unfairly encroaches on information access.

  3. I really like your point about how someone else will be able to understand the laws when a law librarian seems confused and it is really interesting that even a law librarian is confused by the interpretation of the laws regarding copyright. I also really agree with drummergirl40, that hopefully the litigation process and how to proceed with will eventually have guidelines and helpful tips to ensure that your patrons are getting the best access from the contract.

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