Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Fair Use in the Digital Environment: A Research Guide

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Fair Use in the Digital Environment: A Research Guide

Article excerpt

This is my first column as the new The Alert Collector editor. I have huge shoes to fill and am deeply aware of the quality and integrity that Diane Zabel established for this column during the past seven years. I am honored that she would entrust me with her column as she becomes the editor of this journal.

Fair use affects us all, be we public, academic, special, or school librarians. As part of my plans for this column are to include articles that appeal to a wide range of librarians and readers, I am delighted that Melanie Schlosser has taken on the task of collecting the resources we need when facing a copyright and fair-use question. Ms. Schlosser, an MLS candidate at Indiana University's School of Library and Information Science and a Fellow in the Digital Libraries Education Program, has a special interest in access to information and digital rights, and works on the front line of these issues as she helps with Indiana University's Digital Library Program (DLP). Her goal with this column is to provide a useful tool for the ever-increasing number of librarians and library students who work with digital collections or who want to take an active role in ensuring access to information in the digital age.

I hope to continue to edit columns that have as broad an appeal and application. As a collection development and readers' advisory librarian, I am immersed in the world of books and enjoy nothing more than finding out about new resources and reading pathways. I believe that interest is not determined by type of library or type of job, but by the wide-ranging interests we have as individuals and collectively as a profession. I hope this space can become a meeting ground for those interests. I invite your comments and suggestions and look forward to sharing wonderful books and resources with you.--Editor.

The Western notion of copyright dates back to the fifteenth century and the advent of movable-type printing presses. When many years of painstaking labor were required to create one manuscript, limitations on copying were unnecessary The invention of the printing press, however, made mass production and copying of books not only feasible, but profitable. "For the first time, the value of the author's genius could outweigh the cost of the scrivener's labor." (1) It took centuries, however, for the laws to catch up with the technology and determine who should benefit from the proceeds of book printing. It is no surprise, therefore, that the advent of digital information should shake the very foundations of modern copyright laws. As with the printing press, computing and network technologies have changed the nature of the text. A user's ability to make a perfect digital copy of a work and distribute it instantly around the world is as far beyond the printing press as the press was beyond the medieval illuminated manuscript. The law is currently in a state of upheaval, with interested parties on all sides (for example, authors, publishers, educators, and the public) struggling to claim their rights as it changes. This research guide gives the reader an overview of the changes that are sweeping the world of copyright by focusing on fair use and its fate in the digital environment.


Article I of the United States Constitution states that Congress shall have the power "to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." This brief but powerful statement performs two separate functions. It grants to Congress the authority to create copyright laws, but also reminds the lawmakers that the ultimate goal of any such law must be to serve the public good through "the progress of science and useful arts." Following this directive, Congress and the courts have always attempted to strike a balance between the rights of authors and the rights of users, but "it is rarely a neat balance that satisfies opposing interests. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.