Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

The Copyright Spectrum

Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

The Copyright Spectrum

Article excerpt

No policy area affects libraries and technology so much as copyright, and few policy areas are as complex as copyright.

Within the United States, copyright grows out of Article I, Section 8, Part 8, of the Constitution. Combined with the necessary preface, the clause is quite brief:

   The Congress shall have power ... To promote the progress of science
   and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and
   inventors the exclusive rights to their respective writings and

That's also the basis for patent law, and patents do affect library technology--but mostly indirectly. You may find fewer competitive choices than you'd like for a new technology because of patent protections, but that's a relatively minor issue.

The words seem straightforward. The purpose of copyright is "to promote the progress of science and useful arts." To achieve that purpose, Congress may provide authors and inventors exclusive rights to their writings and discoveries for limited times.

Libraries rely on copyright. Without copyright to encourage creation and dissemination, you would have fewer available resources. Academic librarians work to ensure that faculty members understand copyright restrictions--that they don't feel free to copy and distribute anything, anytime, if it suits their needs. Public librarians post appropriate warnings on copying machines. When public libraries find (or project) that demand for an item exceeds current holdings, libraries buy or lease additional copies--they don't expect to be able to replicate the books or sound recordings with no compensation to the author and publisher.

In return, first sale and fair use rights enable libraries to do their jobs. Once a library purchases a book, sound recording, or DVD, it is free to circulate that item without further payment to the publisher or creator. It may sell the item when it's no longer needed, give it away, or lend it to another library, entirely within the bounds of copyright law. In most cases, libraries may also lease items for temporary use.

Copyright in its constitutional form balances the rights and needs of those who create original works, those who use those creations--readers, listeners, viewers--and those who create new works based in part on what came before; since most works draw from previous creations, most creators are also borrowers. Along the way, copyright makes it possible for intermediaries--publishers, distributors, and so on--to function by establishing known and reasonably equitable rules.

In the analog world, this was straightforward. Buy a book, lend it as often as you want. If it wears out, buy another copy. Some authors and most publishers understood the benefits of library circulation. Others lived with it as a workable compromise between control and flexibility.

With the advent of digital technologies and nearly universal Internet accessibility, issues have become more complex. Rather than repeat material covered in ITR's Jan./Feb. 2002 issue (38, no. 1, "Librarian's Guide to Copyright for Shared and Networked Resources," by Tomas A. Lipinski), this chapter will offer a fourfold view of copyright and technology interactions and some examples of problems caused by current policy. Examples will also note substantial problems that could be caused by proposed policies, some of which have been defeated but keep coming back in new guises.

Rewording Section 8, Part 8

First, consider how extreme the changes could be. These two hypothetical rewordings of the Constitution's Article 1, Section 8, Part 8, first appeared in EContent Magazine in 2002.

Copyright Everlasting and Unlimited

The Disney Corporation and other members of the MPAA, RIAA, and AAP shall have exclusive and perpetual rights to creations that they pay for and creations derived in any fashion from those creations, and Congress shall protect those perpetual rights by any means necessary, regardless of other provisions of the Constitution. …

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