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Challenges in Employing Fair Use in Academic and Research Libraries

Association of Research LibrariesThe Center for Social Media, the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property, and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) released on Dec. 15, 2010 Challenges in Employing Fair Use in Academic and Research Libraries, which shows how librarians struggle to meet the missions of U.S. academic and research libraries, interpreting fair use and other copyright exemptions.

In dozens of interviews with veteran research and academic librarians, the researchers learned how copyright law comes into play as interviewees performed core library functions, including:

·      Facilitating student access to learning materials on e-reserves and course websites

·      Providing scholars access to research materials, whether by digitizing existing collections or by providing physical access to special collections and archives

·      Preserving research materials for future scholars and the public, and creating useable copies of frail materials for contemporary use

·      Exhibiting material from collections, whether online or in physical space

·      Making library materials accessible for the disabled

The interviews revealed that fair use is an essential component of copyright exemptions for libraries as they engage in these activities. Some librarians had arrived at a view of fair use that helped them balance library mission and copyright law with confidence, but many had not. While actual practices vary widely, many research and academic librarians faced these common problems:

·      Failure to take full advantage of fair use and other copyright limitations and exceptions

·      Perception of unnecessary conflict between their firm commitment to library mission and their conscientious respect for copyright law

In addition to greater institutional support and a clearer knowledge of other copyright limitations and exceptions, academic and research librarians would benefit significantly from developing a consensus around a code of best practice in fair use tailored to the needs of their field. Other communities of practice, such as documentary filmmakers and media literacy teachers, have done this, and their fields have benefited.

The report is part of a three-stage project funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In stage two the project team will facilitate development of a code of best practices in fair use for research libraries. In stage three, the team will work to promote understanding and adoption of the code.

For more information, contact Brandon Butler, Association of Research Libraries, 202-296-2296, <brandon@arl.org>