How should ALA interpret copyright?

ALA members and other copyright geeks. I’m passing along a request for input into a copyright document ALA is preparing to interpret the Library Code of Ethics. You can either use the input methods below or leave a comment here and I’ll pass them along for you.  I’ve got some thoughts on this document, but am still trying to pull them together. So I didn’t want to make you wait any more:

From: Garnar, Martin []
Sent: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 6:45 AM
To: ALA Council
Subject: [alacoun] draft Interpretation of the Code of Ethics on copyright: feedback requested

Greetings! At the bottom of this e-mail is the text of a proposed interpretation of the ALA Code of Ethics on the topic of copyright. The Committee on Professional Ethics (COPE) will be bringing this interpretation to Council for consideration at the 2014 Annual Conference in Las Vegas and invites your input.

Background: In preparation for the 9th edition of the ALA Intellectual Freedom Manual, focus groups were asked about topics they’d like to see in the new edition, and copyright was one of the top responses. Since copyright is mentioned in the ALA Code of Ethics, COPE was asked to draft a statement. Using the Interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights as a model, this statement is intended to take a core concept from the Code of Ethics (in this case, copyright), explain the underlying principles supporting the core concept, and provide some guidance on how to implement these principles. To draft the statement, COPE convened a working group comprised of members from COPE, the Office for Information Technology Policy’s Advisory Copyright Education Subcommittee, and the Committee on Legislation’s Subcommittee on Copyright. The working group was advised by Carrie Russell, Director of the Program on Public Access to Information. In addition to an FAQ document that will be completed by the OITP Advisory Copyright Education Subcommittee, the working group drafted the attached document. COPE is inviting comments on the draft, which is also posted on Connect at You may leave comments on Connect, or you can send them to me at (comments made using Word’s reviewing features on a marked-up draft welcomed). Please note that I will be traveling from June 8th through June 21st, so any emails received during that period will not be acknowledged until I return. COPE will also hold an open hearing on the draft interpretation during its first business meeting on Friday, June 27th from 1:30 to 3 p.m. in Room N101 of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

A special request for Councilors representing specific constituencies (Divisions, Chapters, Round Tables): Please share this draft with your constituents and ask for feedback using any of the methods outlined above.

Thanks in advance for your input.

Martin Garnar
Chair, Committee on Professional Ethics

==================BEGIN DRAFT=============================
Copyright: An Interpretation of the Code of Ethics (version 23 May 2014) The purpose of copyright is to advance knowledge through the dissemination of information and creative works to benefit the public, which is why copyright is central to the mission of libraries. When working effectively, copyright should provide the broadest access to information for the public while balancing the interests of rights holders. Libraries achieve this when they purchase information resources for their communities, when they curate and preserve the cultural heritage, when they establish services and programs to enhance access to information, and when they simply lend books or other resources.

In Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, “Congress shall have the Power.To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” Thus, Congress creates copyright law to encourage the creation of writings, art, music and other works by providing an economic incentive for authors, innovators, and inventors. In turn, creators make these works available to the public through sales or other means. The economic incentive provided to creators is a limited, statutory monopoly. Only creators can sell or otherwise vend their works. The monopoly, however, has limits-copyright duration, the public domain, limits on what can be protected by copyright, user exceptions like fair use, and many more. Libraries, archives, and non-profit educational institutions also have exceptions to the copyright law that allow libraries to lend works, preserve, and replace works, make copies for library users and so on. It is these limits that ensure that the monopoly is not absolute, that certain uses by the public are lawful, and that new creative works are encouraged, building on the advancements that have occurred over time.

Article IV of the Code of Ethics states that librarians “respect copyright law and advocate balance between the interests of information users and rights holders.” Therefore, librarians should remain informed about copyright developments, particularly those that can limit or restrict exceptions for users. Librarians are and should be the copyright consultants for their user community. This requires a solid understanding of the purpose of the law and some basics, and through this understanding, good judgment, and fairness, and exercise exceptions to their full extent, in particular, the fair use exception. The importance of fair use to library services and the public we serve cannot be understated-its flexibility allows for user privileges in unanticipated situations, destined to occur in times of change. [1]

Moreover, libraries and their parent institutions have a responsibility to maintain policies and procedures that are consistent with current copyright law and institutional mission. More than simply respecting the rights of copyright owners, such policies and procedures should encourage and enable the optimal availability of copyrighted materials for library users through the full employment of the available exceptions within copyright law. Library staff should be regularly trained to consistently recognize and observe the limits of copyright, understand their rights and those of their users, and be ready to educate or properly refer users with questions pertaining to copyright.

Digital technology, networks, and content are ubiquitous. The public expects to have access content at any time. Libraries are equally demanding in their expectation-they expect to acquire or access content for their users and serve their information needs. Today’s digital content is made available by rights holders to libraries and the average consumer through licenses agreement-often non-negotiable-rather than the carefully crafted copyright law that Congress provides. Acquiring or accessing content by license agreement can, and often does, limit user rights realized in the analog world.

Recent amendments to the copyright law have expanded the rights of rights holders with little or no countering benefits in the public interest. In order to restore For a fair balance between rightsholders and users, as described in the Constitution, librarians need to directly engage in negotiations with rights holders, create and embrace open access, and vehemently consistently and strongly advocate on behalf of their users and user rights. Librarians have a proud history of advocating for the public interest, and ensuring that copyright remains a balance between information users and rights holders is the librarian’s essential task in the digital age.

[1] For more information about the copyright law, see the forthcoming Copyright FAQs for Libraries prepared by the OITP Advisory Copyright Education Subcommittee.

– See more at:



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