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Required Reading on Copyright

Copyright WeekIn honor of Copyright Week, I encourage everyone to tweet about your favorite copyright book or other resource.

I frequently get questions from librarians about good books, articles, or websites about copyright. What most of the librarians want is a resource that helps them understand how to respond to copyright questions they receive at their libraries, schools, or colleges. I try to explain that there are no definitive answers to copyright questions, but I know they really don’t want to hear that. Many people like certainty, yes and no answers. In fact, I once had a librarian insist that I answer her question “once and for all.”

Instead, I want them to read materials that give them a foundation to understanding copyright. Without the foundation, without the context, how can anyone really respond to copyright questions? Most librarians do not have law degrees but nonetheless they are turned to for copyright advice and are viewed as the “copyright point person” at their libraries, an assignment that for many has been thrust upon them. Then there’s me telling them to run with the assignment because who better than a librarian for a resource person? Copyright is information policy, after all.

With copyright, it is the purpose of the law that still inspires, and hence the hero worship of Ray Patterson who so clearly articulated that copyright is about learning. Despite numerous requests, the University of Georgia Press has not re-released Patterson’s definitive work for librarians — The Nature of Copyright: A Law of Users’ Rights co-authored with Stanley W. Lindberg. Thanks to first sale, you can still find copies in libraries, at used bookstores, and of course, online at Powell’s Books and other retailers.

As an alternative (say you are not ready to read an entire book about copyright), Lydia Pallas Loren wrote a short article called “The Purpose of Copyright” for Open Spaces. It’s been online for years now, but I still say it is required reading for any librarian who wants a fundamental understanding of what the copyright law is all about, plus it’s a good read.

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Carrie Russell

As of November 2018, District Dispatch is no longer being updated. It is now being archived for future use. Please visit for the latest news.

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