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.