Friday, October 15, 2010

What is copyright?

Copyrights (the rights to exclusive use) provide for the creators of material to benefit from their work: authors from their writing, musicians from their compositions, and so on. Regulations governing copyright take the form of law and a great deal of energy is spent interpreting the law, making the whole matter of copyright complex and quite puzzling for the general public. There are exceptions to copyright when the creator's rights to exclusive use are balanced with the public interest. For example, the concept of "fair use" governs certain limited use of copyrighted material for educational purposes. Libraries, in particular, try very hard to understand and to honor copyright protections while supporting reasonable fair use. With the increasing ease of digital information flow, the matter becomes even harder to understand and the even most principled users of information are challenged in observing the limits of use. We have a book in our professional collection entitled Copyright Law for Librarians and Educators, published in 2006 by Kenneth D. Crews -- 156 pages chockful of useful if somewhat overwhelming hints for being good copyright citizens. The American Association of School Librarians has also gathered sources of copyright information on a useful web page. Bottom line, it is wise at the least always to credit sources on any project or presentation, use as little of the original material as possible to convey and honor the creator's work with integrity, and use it one-time-only without profit in an educational setting. It is hard but important to remind ourselves to play fair.