Researching Copyright Answers Amritha FB 12 Jul 2007 18:05 UTC

[Cross-posted please excuse duplication]
Lesley Ellen Harris has asked me to share her article on finding
answers to copyright questions.  It is set out below.  Hope it's



Researching Copyright Answers

We never stop investigating.  We are never satisfied that we know
enough to get by.  Every question we answer leads on to another
question.  This has become the greatest survival trick of our species.

Desmond Morris, British anthropologist, The Naked Ape, ch. 5 (1967)

Most of us have more copyright questions than answers.  And similar
to British anthropologist Desmond Morris, each question often leads
to yet another question.  Even answers about copyright law seem to
lead to other questions about copyright.  So how do you go about the
duties of your daily tasks when a question inevitably arises about
the interpretation of a license agreement, what percent of a work may
be used without permission, and, who owns a report prepared by a
consultant (whether you hired that consultant, or you are that

Part of copyright management is dealing with the multitude of
questions without constant delays in work and large attorney bills.
It means having a mechanism in place for dealing with repetitive
copyright situations.  Even those in enterprises with in-house
attorneys may not obtain speedy responses and may require such
mechanisms.  Individuals and those who works in enterprises without
in-house counsel often become adept at dealing with daily copyright
questions.  This article sets out various suggestions of
incorporating a mechanism for dealing with repetitive copyright

Be Proactive

Having a written copyright policy is a great way mechanism for
keeping track of copyright issues.  Even if you are a very small
enterprise, having a document that sets out a consistent approach to
copyright (or a summary of how you dealt with past copyright
situations) will get you into the "proactive" category.  Keeping your
policy updated to reflect any amendments in the copyright law, new
court decisions, and the application of copyright law to new
technology is also important.  Keeping summaries of how you have
dealt with digital rights uses, permissions issues, and other ongoing
copyright situations, will provide some consistency in your
workplace, and also some confidence in dealing with re-occurring

One of the most useful parts of your written policy could be a
section with questions and answers to basic and re-occurring
questions on copyright law.  For instance, are you covered by any
exceptions to copyright law?  (Libraries and educational institutions
often are subject to certain exceptions.)  Do you have a license with
a copyright collective (such as the Copyright Clearance Center or
Access Copyright) which allows for multiple copying of a periodical
article in specified circumstances?  How do you obtain the right to
use an image you find on a Web site?  By listing questions as they
arise, and providing practical solutions, you will develop a
consistent approach to handling copyright issues in your enterprise.

Vetted Bibliography

Another helpful thing to do is to have a vetted bibliography on
copyright law which you refer your colleagues to for general reading
and for on-going education on copyright.  Keep the list short and
only provide a list of those sources you have personally vetted and
find easy to navigate (if online), and/or read and comprehend.  This
way, you or your colleagues are not on a "wild goose chase" finding
copyright information, but rather have some reliable resources at
their fingertip.

A favorite Web site on copyright issues in general, which has some
interactive portions is  An information-packed site
on digital licensing is at:
index.shtml.  You may also join the discussion list serv at
Liblicense, which is an excellent source for keeping up to date on
licensing issues, and also a forum in which you may ask your
licensing questions and share information with colleagues around the
world.  Understanding the complexities of fair use is never an easy
task, and one very good resource for this purpose is the Copyright &
Fair Use site at:

This list is just a beginning.  Take a look at these Web sites and
search for your own sites, see what works for your enterprise, your
colleagues and the types of copyright issues that arise in your daily
work.  Also, research print books that are relatively current and
deal with copyright issues specific to your workplace.  There are
many copyright-related books so visit a library, do an online search,
and get recommendations from others about their favorite resources.

Do you belong to a professional association in your field?  Many
professional associations, including those for creators of all sorts,
publishers, museums, archives, educational institutions and
libraries, have extensive copyright resources, specific to your
needs.  If your association does not offer such resources, recommend
that they develop a Web page devoted to copyright issues relevant to
its members.

Other up-to-date resources may be materials from conferences,
seminars and the ever-growing online seminars on copyright and
licensing.  You may even hire a copyright lawyer to visit your
enterprise and give an in-house seminar customized to your needs.
Another idea is to hire a non-lawyer such as a licensing specialist,
to have an informal talk with employees in your enterprise – a non-
lawyer can often provide practical advice and may be less
intimidating to those in your enterprise.

International Copyright

In accumulating your resources, keep in mind that copyright laws vary
from country to country and there is no international copyright law.
For specific copyright issues, ensure that you are using resources
from your own country.  However, for understanding the bigger
picture, history and philosophy of copyright law, visiting the World
Intellectual Property Organisation ("WIPO", and
reviewing copyright resources from other countries, can provide you
with some interesting information.  Also, your national copyright
office likely has some valuable copyright publications to help
educate you on copyright issues specific to your own country.

On-Going Education

The general press reports many copyright issues, especially ones
relating to peer-to-peer sharing, Google activities, and other high
profile cases.  Try putting aside a couple hours once a month to
search the Internet for new articles on copyright.  In addition, join
some news services that email you copyright news headlines.

Attend sessions at conferences that deal with copyright, or specific
copyright seminars offered by various associations and companies.
The University of Texas crash course in copyright (which is free) is
highly recommended.  See:
cprtindx.htm.  Various online courses on copyright, licensing and
managing content are offered by

Changes in Copyright Law

Copyright statutes in all countries are amended from time-to-time and
court cases change how we interpret those statutes, and apply the
statutes to new and often digital media.  Keeping abreast of new
developments is key to finding appropriate answers to your copyright
questions.  With copyright a higher profile issue now, often reading
general newspapers will lead you to copyright news.  However, you can
also regularly search various news sites for copyright updates, and
register to receive updates and alerts on copyright news.

Carving a Niche

How do you, amongst your other busy work duties, have time to do all
of the above?  Make a case to your senior management for a full or
part-time position as a Copyright Officer (or whatever name it is
called).  Copyright issues, and the application of copyright law,
management of copyright issues and digital content, negotiating and
interpreting license agreements, has grown tremendously in the past
decade or more.  Copyright is a serious and complex issue that
requires attention and time.  A Copyright Officer who can "manage"
copyright issues in your enterprise (note:  not provide legal
advice), may be able to save you money at your lawyer's office by
your enterprise already having practical information on re-occurring
copyright questions, and as a way of avoiding  copyright infringements.


Copyright law is not straight-forward and there are many gray areas,
including the interpretation of fair use/dealing.  It is impossible
to have answers to all of your copyright questions but guidance in
finding answers and appropriate reference materials can lead you to
practical advice.  Keep a record of questions and answers that arise
in your enterprise and if possible, at least occasionally consult a
lawyer to review the questions (which you then incorporate into your
written Copyright Policy.)

As a bottom line and best way to learn more about copyright law:
keep asking questions!

To be published in The Copyright & New Media Law Newsletter, 2007,
Issue 2.  (