Magazine article American Libraries

A Public Library Perspective

Magazine article American Libraries

A Public Library Perspective

Article excerpt

Ray Serebrin is managing librarian, Department of Media and Program Services, Seattle Public Library.

THE ISSUE OF VIDEO copyright has stirred much debate and confusion. Librarians find themselves interpreting a copyright law that has already been overtaken by changes in information technology. Understanding copyright law is a professional responsibility for librarians. Interpreting the law, however, is neither an exact science nor a discipline in which most librarians have any training.

As a public librarian, my primary concerns about copyright law are with those aspects that relate directly to public access to video and video services. There is little controversy about most of these issues. Group use of unlicensed videotapes in a non-curricular program setting is certainly a copyright infringement. Under the "firstsale" doctrine, loans for home use are clearly allowable A videorecorder can be loaned too, in my opinion, even if the patron intends to use it to infringe copyright.

Unprecedented law

There is significant disagreement, however, about patron viewing of videotapes in the library, on library-owned equipment. Copyright holders contend that such viewings are restricted "public performances" according to the copyright law. The library community claims that such uses are, within specific guidelines, authorized "private performances." Since there is no legal precedent that specifically addresses the issue of library viewing (or any other nonprofit viewing), it is uncertain whether the standard set forth in the law applies to individual showings in the pubic library or not. …

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