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This blog provides a space for conversations about articles and ideas found in AALL Spectrum, the monthly magazine of the American Association of Law Libraries. The previous blog was located at aallspectrum.wordpress.com.
5/8/2013 11:49:09 AM

Book Review: The Librarian's Copyright Companion, 2nd Edition

James S. Heller, Paul Hellyer, & Benjamin Keele,  The Librarian’s Copyright Companion, 2nd Edition (Buffalo, NY: William S. Hein & Co., Inc., 2012), 324 pp., incl. appendices and index.  Paperback, $49.00, ISBN: 978-0-8377-3872-7.

This book, an update of 2004’s first edition, was authored by three academic law librarians, all of whom hold both law and library degrees.  Each of the eight chapters from the first edition has been updated, and a ninth chapter on the library as publisher has been added.  There are also sixteen appendices that range from suggested online copyright resources to model policies to selected provisions from Title 17 of the USC.  If your library staff has any interest in creating or updating policies related to copyright, the convenience of the appendices alone is probably enough to justify purchasing this title, since it contains many of the resources that a well-informed librarian would want to consider in creating institutional copyright norms.

Law firm librarians may find this title especially appealing.  The authors explicitly address issues from the perspectives of not only government or academic libraries, which are favored by the principles of fair use, but also private libraries, where the boundaries of copyright can be more restrictive.  This book provides commentary on specific hypothetical situations that librarians in many kinds of libraries might face – a refreshing approach, as library-centric copyright scholarship tends to focus on academic and public libraries.

Although The Librarian’s Copyright Companion is organized in a way that makes it easy to look up specific topics in copyright, it reads more as a treatise than as a reference resource; ideas introduced in one section are referred to in later ones, making it difficult to take a section out of context for quick answers to specific questions.  However, as an introduction to copyright for librarians or as a refresher for those who aren’t up to date on recent developments, it works very nicely.  Some particularly helpful organizational choices are the inclusion of  “The Bottom Line,” a concluding note at the end of some sections that summarizes more complex legal issues; Question and Answer sections on topics of frequent interest; and Comments on examples, offering suggestions and opinions when black letter law is not available.

 The tone is conversational, with occasional quippy comments and creative examples that generally make the book more engaging (although this reviewer will admit to being a little distracted by the apparent classification of Rhett Butler as a “northern gunrunner”[1]).  The text (minus appendices) is a quick but comprehensive overview at 185 pages—a very readable length as it allows enough depth to explore certain topics in sufficient detail while not bogging the reader down with tangential issues.  Overall, this title provides helpful information for both copyright novices and those more seasoned in the subject, and while applicable to libraries in general, it is especially relevant to law libraries of all kinds.  Recommended.


Andrea Alexander is a reference librarian and assistant professor at Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law's Taggart Law Library.


[1] Pg. 5.  Actually, Rhett Butler was from Charleston and brought many supplies besides guns across the blockades.  Therefore, classifying him as “northern” is incorrect, and “gunrunner” is unnecessarily narrow.  This reviewer is vaguely embarrassed to have read Gone With the Wind so many times as a child that she knew these specific details off the top of her head. 

Posted By Andrea Alexander at 5/8/2013 11:49:09 AM  0 Comments
2/6/2013 3:17:48 PM

Book Review: Copyright Questions and Answers for Information Professionals

Copyright Questions and Answers for Information Professionals, by Laura N. Gasaway. Purdue University Press, 2013, 284 pages. Paperback, $24.95

You may be thinking, “My library already owns half-a-dozen books on copyright issues in libraries. Do we really need another?” Absolutely. Copyright Questions and Answers for Information Professionals should be part of all academic law library reference collections for those specific questions for which you need a quick answer. It is accessible to all readers, regardless of whether or not one has any copyright law knowledge. Similar books tend toward in-depth summaries and explanations of copyright law that may still leave the reader at a loss as to how to address specific questions. Professor Gasaway’s book is quite the opposite, clearly and succinctly providing just enough explanation to enable the librarian to make an informed decision and move on.

The book is comprised of questions and answers compiled from Professor Gasaway’s column in the journal Against the Grain. Each chapter begins with a few paragraphs summarizing the legal issues addressed therein (e.g., library reserves, movies and music, photos, archives), then presents 25–30 copyright-related questions and answers. Because the questions are genuine rather than hypotheticals conceived of by the author, the scenarios presented will undoubtedly sound familiar. Question 148 in the book, for example, parallels a recent inquiry I had at the reference desk: “Two faculty members at the university teach film courses. They run evening showings of the films, followed by discussions, which are widely advertised to the public. Although this provides an opportunity for students to see the films, many people from the general public also attend. No public performance rights are obtained because the faculty members claim that the performances are a fair use. They use copies of the DVDs from the library’s collection for the performances, and many are recently released films. Should the university be concerned about liability for copyright infringement?” Professor Gasaway’s answer is decisive: “Absolutely!” While she does give a brief explanation as to why this is the case (including what factors might change her answer), the reader is left with a definitive answer regarding whether someone in the university should obtain public performance rights for the films or the films should no longer be shown to the public at large. Professor Gasaway’s style throughout the book is the same—in no case are you left to parse out various applications of the law. Instead, the reader’s task is simply to assess whether his or her facts are more or less like those presented in the book.

Unfortunately, this raises one of the drawbacks of the book. If the question hasn’t been raised by Against the Grain readers, Professor Gasaway hasn’t addressed it. Thus, if you do not think your fact pattern sufficiently matches any scenarios presented in the book, you may need to turn to a book with more in-depth copyright analysis, such as The Librarian’s Copyright Companion.

Second, the book is not one to which you’d turn to develop copyright policies for your library because it does not offer a particularly nuanced assessment of issues such as liability and risk. For example, in the scenario described above (faculty showing films acquired by the library), no guidance is offered concerning whether the library or faculty member would also be subject to liability. If the librarian responsible for setting copyright policies for the library has a more comprehensive understanding of the actual risk to the library in these circumstances, he or she could set library copyright policies accordingly. For example, library policy may explicitly state no faculty can borrow films that may be shown to the public—or may simply continue to loan films to all faculty members without inquiring further. For better or worse, the librarian in this situation would still need to turn to university legal counsel and other copyright texts for guidance in this area.

Despite the fact that Copyright Questions and Answers for Information Professionals may not address the big, deep copyright issues that arise in your library, the breadth of information covered makes this book worthwhile. Sometimes you just want a “yes” or “no” answer to the question, “Can we do X in the library?”

Ingrid Mattson is a Reference Librarian at Moritz Law Library, Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University.

Posted By Ingrid Mattson at 2/6/2013 3:17:48 PM  0 Comments
1/10/2013 2:31:47 PM

An Idea, Some Books, and a Desk

In 2010, Perkins Coie LLP began the process of remodeling our Seattle office. I knew that the library would lose its fantastic corner reading room on the 42nd floor and about 30% of our square footage. Though we would discard some print products, we also planned to expand our electronic collection, which would increase access beyond Seattle into our other offices. And though we often speak of the library as a service rather than a place, I felt strongly about keeping our physical space and creating a comfortable environment that attorneys could use in lieu of their offices. Early in the design process, a photo of a library reference desk built from books was circulating through various library blogs. As I oversaw the disposal of thousands of linear feet of books, I wondered if we could do something similar. The library committee supported the project, and the proposal moved its way through the approval process. At each point, the project met with overwhelming excitement.

The firm invited several artists to submit proposals for the project. From those, we commissioned the artist team SuttonBeresCuller to create a reference desk for the main library that used recycled materials from the library’s collection. The inventive design relies on law books as structural and conceptual building blocks and incorporates light to suggest the illuminating power of the law and the changing way we obtain information. The glass top is etched with pages from landmark American court cases as well as important cases from Perkins Coie’s own history.

As is often the case, the creative process was more difficult than anticipated. We started with a standard office desk, and the artist team created a “book skin” to wrap around it. The books had to be placed together to fit within the shape and dimensions of the desk. The corners were especially difficult. Once completed, the pieces were then moved from the studio and installed in the library. Since the desk is front-heavy, we bolted it to the floor. The addition of a black steel support for the glass top further ensures its stability. The final result is simply stunning and demonstrates the firm’s commitment to art and knowledge. The vibrant book binding colors in conjunction with the brightly colored lights provide a beautiful contrast to our dark winter days.

Artists John Sutton, Ben Beres and Zac Culler have worked collaboratively since 1999. Their work has been exhibited extensively in gallery and performance spaces throughout the Northwest and often takes the art experience beyond the confines of the gallery via public works, street actions, and site-specific temporary installations. View a series of time-lapse photos of the desk construction here.

Amy Eaton
Seattle Library Manager
Perkins Coie LLP

Posted By Ashley St. John at 1/10/2013 2:31:47 PM  0 Comments