Libraries & Copyright
What Is Copyright?
Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (Title 17, U. S. Code) to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works.
It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided by the copyright law to the owner of copyright.These rights, however, are not unlimited in scope and certain portions of this act (Sections 107 through 121 of the 1976 Copyright Act) establish limitations on these rights.
In some cases, these limitations are specified exemptions from copyright liability. One major limitation is the doctrine of “fair use,” which is given a statutory basis in the Act. In other instances, the limitation takes the form of a “compulsory license” under which certain limited uses of copyrighted works are permitted upon payment of specified royalties and compliance with statutory conditions.
Libraries and Copyright
According to the American Library Association (ALA), the Digital Age presents new challenges to fundamental copyright doctrines that are legal cornerstones of library services. Libraries are leaders in trying to maintain a balance of power between copyright holders and users, in keeping with the fundamental principles outlined in the Constitution and carefully crafted over the past 200 years.
In this role, the ALA closely follows both federal and state legislation to make our voice heard when issues are moving. Libraries are perceived as a voice for the public good, and ALA participation is often requested in "friend of the court" briefs in important intellectual property cases. Our involvement extends to the international copyright arena where we also follow the treaties to which the U.S. is a signatory and which could influence the development of copyright changes at home.
Copyright issues are among the most hotly contested issues in the legal and legislative world; billions of dollars are at stake. Legal principles and technological capabilities are constantly challenging each other, and every outcome can directly affect the future of libraries.
What Works Are Protected by Copyright?
Copyright protects “original works of authorship” that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. The fixation need not be directly perceptible so long as it may be communicated with the aid of a machine or device. Copyrightable works include the following categories:
- Literary Works
- Musical works, including any accompanying words
- Dramatic works, including any accompanying music
- Pantomimes and choreographic works
- Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
- Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
- Sound recordings
- Architectural works
These categories should be viewed broadly. For example, computer programs and most “compilations” may be registered as “literary works;” maps and architectural plans may be registered as “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.”
What Is Not Protected by Copyright?
Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include among others:
- Works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded)
- Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents
- Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration
- Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship (for example, standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, and lists or tables taken from public documents or other common sources)