Magazine article Computers in Libraries

The Laws, They Are A-Changin'

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

The Laws, They Are A-Changin'

Article excerpt

Each month when I sit down in front of my PowerBook to actually begin writing this column, I face what is, for me, the hardest part of the job: writing the introduction. I want to pique your interest and draw you into the column, but finding those first few sentences can be tough. The editors have asked me to be more personal, to draw on my own experiences as a librarian, and to express my opinions. But this month it was particularly difficult to be personal because I don't have any anecdotes or amusing stories about copyright issues. I'm not even sure I know enough about the issues to have definite opinions. I struggle, as I think we all do, to understand the legal issues that affect our profession.

As librarians in the Digital Age, we've learned to accept, although grudgingly, the rapid pace of change in information technology. There are always new computers, new software, new operating systems, new databases, new features-sometimes it feels as if nothing is familiar and we struggle to stay up-to-date on the latest developments. We accept these changes and sometimes even appreciate them, because they help us do our jobs better and provide improved service to our patrons.

The changes in information technology, however, also raise new legal issues, and lawmaking bodies are finding it difficult to keep the laws current with the technological capabilities. Issues of copyright, intellectual property, and fair use are being debated in legislatures and reviewed in the courts. The outcome of these proceedings will have profound effects on libraries, so we must keep up with not only the changes in information technology, but also the changes in the laws that affect the way we use these technologies.

The U.S. Copyright Office

The obvious place to start when considering copyright issues is with the U.S. Copyright Office of the Library of Congress. Copyright is explained on this site in a historical overview of the Copyright Office and its work, and also in a lengthy document called Copyright Basics. An FAQ serves to answer any remaining questions.

The links listed under Legislation will help librarians who are interested in current developments, and there are links to copyright law, new and pending legislation, speeches and testimony, and a summary of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Since copyright is an international issue, there are also links to information about international copyright law, including a link to WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Organization.

Getting the Scoop from ALA's Washington Office

Recognizing the importance of federal legislation to the library profession and the need to keep librarians informed on the latest developments, the American Library Association's Washington Office maintains a presence on the ALA Web site. Copyright is identified as one of the key issues on the site. At the time of my visit, the U.S. Supreme Court had just announced its intention to hear the appeal challenging the constitutionality of the Copyright Term Extension Act, so this was the top news on the site. It contained information on ALA's activities in regard to this case, and links to further discussion on other sites.

Librarians who need to learn about the topic of copyright can follow the links to a chart titled Copyright at a Glance, and to the Copyright Education Page, which provides information on current and recent e-mail tutorials. These tutorials, offered by ALA's Office for Information Technology Policy, deal with licensing digital content and UCITA, the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act.

There are also brief discussions of the following topics: copyright basics, copyright fair use, copyright and the library, copyright and learning, copyright and research, and copyright and the Internet. Reading these discussions can certainly help librarians begin to understand the issues of copyright in the Electronic Age.

Returning to the ALA Washington Office copyright page, you can continue to learn more by following the links to discussions of database protection, distance education, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, UCITA, international copyright issues, and key court cases. …

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