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Copyright for the Ages: It’s Not Your Father’s Copyright Anymore

To celebrate Copyright Week, the American Library Association will join a number of organizations to exchange ideas, information and actions about copyright reform. From Monday, January 13th until Saturday, January 18th, copyright experts will explore different aspects of copyright law on the District Dispatch.

Guest Blogger: Donna Ferullo

As I have been in the process of writing a book over the past year on managing copyright in higher education, it has really surprised me in some ways as to the scope of copyright issues I address within the course of a year.  Universities are both consumers and producers of copyrighted works so questions arise as to both ownership and use.  Responding to the questions in a timely fashion takes priority so an in-depth analysis of the types of questions received is not always at the top of my to do list. However, in the course of gathering information for the book I took the opportunity to review some of the statistics I’ve kept as Director of a University Copyright Office on questions and who asked those questions — faculty, staff, students — over the past ten years and there were some very obvious trends.  Please note that this is not a scientific study but merely my observations.

There was a tremendous increase in questions from graduate students about copyright in their dissertations.  They wanted to know about how to legally incorporate third party content into their work as well as the options on retaining their copyright when negotiating with publishers.  They also were much more amenable to exploring different publishing options for works beyond their dissertation such as open access or using Creative Commons licenses.

It was no surprise that questions on digital issues were off the charts.  However, what was a surprise was that the questions have become more complex and sophisticated over the past several years. There were so many more questions on mashups and remixes.  Advances in technology might certainly be contributing to this but could it also be due to the fact that copyright is in the news more often with such major litigation like Google, HathiTrust and the Georgia State cases? There appears to have been a shift in the copyright culture attitude where people are becoming more empowered to question the copyright status quo.  The song by Twisted Sister of “We’re Not Gonna Take it” comes to mind particularly in conversations with students.

However, as much as some things change, some things remain the same such as basic copyright questions on fair use and public domain works.  There are always questions on what copyrighted works can be used in a classroom and how having a hybrid course of face-to-face and online components changes the rules.  Massive online open courses (MOOC’s) have added to that conversation but the copyright analysis of the issues remains the same.

I’m not certain whether it’s the educational efforts over the many years that is beginning to pay off or some other phenomenon.  Whatever the reason, I have found that more members of the university community are aware that copyright is a law although they are not familiar with the application of it.  I consider it a success if a person is able to even identify that there is an issue and that identification appears to be on the increase.

Major educational initiatives by the American Library Association and the Association of Research Libraries to raise awareness as to the importance of copyright as well as the creation of more positions at universities that are dedicated to addressing copyright issues on campus have taken copyright conversations and discussions to levels that I have not seen in the past.  It is in the best interest of society to have robust discussions about a balanced copyright which can hopefully help frame changes to the copyright law that will benefit all citizens and not just major industries. In my position, I have observed that these conversations are happening at all levels of the university.

Donna Ferullo is the Director of the University Copyright Office at Purdue University.

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Carrie Russell

Carrie Russell is the director of the Program on Public Access to Information in the Washington Office. Her portfolio includes copyright, international copyright, accessibility, e-books, and other public policy issues. She has an MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and an MA in media arts from the University of Arizona.

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