copyright and organizational politics

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  • This isn't a technical question about copyright. It's a question about how you manage to promote copyright "do's and don't's" in your organization. For example, I am an academic librarian and face the following political issues:

    1. I am expected to be what I call the "campus copyright queen."

    2. I am called on to speak to campus individuals and groups on copyright and provide copyright education, which I try to do on an "as needed" basis and through a web site.

    3. I also handle daily copyright questions for reserves. I send back egregious violations, e.g., a copy of an entire book that a faculty member wants on reserve, and I try to find solutions in cases where faculty are working in "gray" areas.

    That said, however, I am also told (by my own director, no less) that I spend too much time on copyright, that she "doesn't want to hear it anymore" and that our campus IT people are not interested in hearing it either.

    Further, faculty are circumventing our reserve process by having their departmental secretaries check out materials rather than deal with copyright and complaining to my director that they have always been able to put these materials on reserve, but now they can't. She tells me that I can't interfere with classes by refusing to put things on reserve.

    I expect a number of you face this challenge on your campuses or in your organizations. How do you mitigate this problem?
  • As someone who's just become "Acting Copyright Queen", I can sympathize. The questions are highly individualized and do require a lot of thinking and consideration (at least for me as I learn about it, but I don't see this getting lots easier.) We have a "draft policy" out for review by campus counsel, and have also been making small but necessary changes in how we do business even in advance of that policy getting through necessary levels of review. (And if we go by the last document, still in senate limbo after multiple revisions and over one year of discussion, it will be a long time, so we really can't wait.)
    Can you push it back to faculty and make them responsible? Our form for placing items on reserve says "Course reserve materials must be in compliance with the "fair use" provision of the U.S. Copyright Law or instructors are responsible for obtaining permission to use materials that do not meet "fair use" standard." The draft policy says "In making materials available, the Library is acting at the request of the instructor as an extension of his or her classroom, and takes no responsibility for copyright violations." I have no idea if this is really enough-- but it does make me sleep better.
    And-- keep looking at those job ads. I hope we'll be posting something soon asking for "copyright expertise" and suspect that many more academic libraries will be going in this direction. I know my stint as "acting" will make me value that experience.
  • This is a tough job in any library, and worse when you are expected to be the expert to anyone on campus! I would recommend that you find colleagues (in particular lawyers!) that would help you develop an institution wide copyright policy that you can refer to. Such policies provide the political backing you need to fight the "I don't wanna hear anymore about Copyright!" crowd. It's not fun, I know very well.

    -- Trisha
  • You might also want to contact the campus legal advisor and get their opinion on copyright issues and the campus legal climate. Some places are more willing to be daring. (Don't be surprised if he/she requests some background information from you!)

    And, of course, cite your sources for your copyright info. That makes it less of "your problem" and more of a "generally accepted opinion".

    Good luck!
    --from a former Copyright Queen
  • My official title is Copyright/Reference librarian, and I have been lucky, I guess, in having full support from day one. My director had me work from the top down, so that in my first year I met with the Provost, the Council of Deans, the University Counsel, the Chairs in each college, various other administrative groups, and then in the second year I started to address individual departments. I also give workshops, advise faculty, contact university counsel if the faculty need legal help, and do the permissions work for the faculty--I have a Ph.D. and understand somewhat how much they have to do. They do not have time to get their own permissions to use course work, and are naturally going to be resentful is the burden is on them. We only ask that they get help if they need it. I spend about 80% of my time on copyright. I have created a web site that is informational. My director calls me "preventive medicine." It helps me that I do not think of myself as an enforcer, only as an information provider. Here is a scenario that I bring up to the faculty in the meetings; true story, so I am told: A student helper did some illegal copying for a faculty member that came to the attention of the company being infringed against. Because of the "deep pockets" approach to litigation that drives this nation's legal system, the student, his immediate faculty supervisor, the head of the department, the dean of the college, the provost, the president of the university and the Board of Regents were all sued. The idea is to go for the big money on behalf of the plaintiff. What I add is that eveyone is responsible. Don't take it all on your shoulders. See if you can get some support from your director to put up a web page with information on copyright. Mine is at if you want some ideas.
    Good faith efforts to inform and comply with the law protect the library and the university; your director and the university as a whole should be grateful. Good luck. :)

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