Magazine article Online

A Reading Road Trip around Copyright: An Annotated Tour of Copyright Resources

Magazine article Online

A Reading Road Trip around Copyright: An Annotated Tour of Copyright Resources

Article excerpt

AS copyright becomes part of the nation's mainstream discourse, more publications are devoting time and space to the topic. This leads to an interesting evolution in publication and viewpoint. Where copyright was once discussed only in expensive, exclusive, and (mostly) print publications and forums, today copyright commentary is readily available in many daily newspapers and on several Web sites. Further, where the tone in the exclusive publications discussed copyright mostly in terms of identifying and protecting copyrights held by large corporate institutions, more recent discussions about copyright emphasize either copyright's potential as a barrier to personal creativity or the lack of copyright as a potential threat to a national economy.

In reality, copyright is at neither end of that spectrum. Instead, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Some of the best resources effectively and accurately represent that middle ground where copyright is a delicate balance between consumer and creator. These materials, together and individually, clearly and fairly explain to information professionals what copyright law is, how it works, and what role copyright should play in an environment that is hurtling toward wholesale adoption of content sharing, "clip culture," and born-digital resources.


Any discussion of copyright resources should begin with the Web site of the United States Copyright Office ( The office administers the nation's copyright law, maintains a public record of registrations, keeps information on protected documents (including those related to compulsory licenses), provides technical assistance to and conducts studies on behalf of Congress, and serves as a resource to the domestic and international copyright communities. The office is also a documentary agency that maintains the nation's repository of copyrighted material and the records about those materials. In this role, the office writes and regulates the procedures for registering works, explains the office's operations and practices, and reports on facts found in its public records.

Since 1870, the nation's copyright system has been centralized inside the Library of Congress, and the office advises the library on copyright issues, including those related to the National Digital Library Program and the activities of the section 108 Study Group. The office typically has been housed inside the library's Washington, B.C., Madison building, but since July, it has temporarily moved many of its operations to Crystal City, Va.

Partly because most of the information it provides is noneditorial, the office's Web site is perhaps the most comprehensive and reliable resource available about U.S. copyright law and its related processes. Any search for copyrightrelated information should begin there.

The reliability of the information on the Copyright Office's Web site is due to its neutrality. Because the information is provided mostly without editorial or explanatory comment, it tends to be more useful to experienced copyright practitioners than to information professionals seeking to understand this area of intellectual property law and how it applies in their situations. Other resources (at varying levels of complexity) will help.


In the age of Google, it may seem counter to prevailing thought to begin looking for copyright resources through traditional library sources. However, my experience has shown me that open Google searches provide copyright information that diverge wildly in quality and freshness. Library research is, therefore, critically important. Additionally, many of the most authoritative copyright resources are not published online, but only in print.

The Library of Congress classification scheme locates U.S. legal materials within the call numbers KF2986-3080. Some important exceptions are worth noting. …

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