Book Review: Copyright Questions and Answers for Information Professionals

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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.

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