Saturday, July 19, 2008

Copyright Quick Guide

We have written much on the subject of copyright and there is much more to write. The thorniest area is that which we referred to as the ‘grey area’, which lies between public domain and in print, in copyright and with full traceable ownership. To many this area of ambiguity is best left at it is – murky. To others it stops books being brought back into print and given a second chance. Establishing the rules is relatively easy establishing ownership is a lot more difficult.

The American Library Association (ALA) have produced a copyright slider to make it easier for their members to understand the rules on all materials. The slider shows that copyrighted works published without a copyright notice and created between 1923 and 1977 are in the public domain now. However, if published with copyright notice, they will be protected to at least 2018. However, even with a copyright notice, this only applies if they renewed after 28 years. Pretty clear there then! That is without the differences between US, UK and other countries!

The slider is available online and has been created by Michael Brewer at the University of Arizona. The ALA also offers a ‘Fair Use Checklist’ that applies the four criteria of use to provide guidance to determine on ‘fair use’. Personally we found it rose as many questions as it answered, but we supposed some clarity is better than none.

Copyright is the backbone of publishing and intellectual property. If the ALA have to produce guidance sheets for what are ‘professional information managers’ it begs the question of how authors and consumers have any idea what is public, what is fair use and the rules. As we enter an era where controls are passing from professional and institutions to anybody we have to question whether the rules can be either simplified or tracing copyright can become easier? Why haven’t we got an effective copyright clearance centre? Why isn’t copyright clearly accessible on all digital materials? How do we find about rights reversals, permissions and other issues if the basics are so ambitious?

Scan first ask later maybe is an understandable route for some!

1 comment:

Jonathan Bailey said...

I have to agree completley that, if copyright is confusing that attorneys and industry professional struggle with it, artists and the public at large have little hope.

The problem is that, for the most part, the issue of individuals being aware of copyright only became an issue within the last 20 years or so. Technologies only recently made it possible for users to copy on a scale likely to create a larger copyright issue and made it possible for them to publish on a scale where they were likely to be infringed.

I agree that it is time for a clean up and simplification of the copyright code, but it isn't likely to happen or help.

Any attempts to reform now have only muddied the waters even more and with international treaties slowing serious reform, it may be many decades before we see the change that we need to create a practical copyright system.

The best we can do right now is educate and hope...