Home » Fair Use » The Message or the Messenger?

The Message or the Messenger?


The Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) released today a brief marketing video advertising its annual copyright license for academic institutions. By paying for the license, institutions have “ready and easy” access to copyrighted materials covered by the license for use in coursepacks, e-reserves, and course management systems.  There is no mention of how paying for this license includes paying for uses that would otherwise not require permission.  Last week, a colleague at another institution directed my attention to another recently posted video on CCC’s site; this video is targeted, in a rather creative and humorous way, toward faculty and students. The video presents the black letter of the law, including a brief explanation of fair use, but with a subtle overtone of fear and guilt for using an author’s work without compensation. Notably, there is no indication or mention of how CCC is funding the lawsuit against Georgia State University for copyright infringement.

Ironically, another “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use” was released today by the Center for Social Media. This latest Code is for poets; previously, the Center produced codes of best practices for documentary film makers, online video creators, and dance performers.  A Code for academic librarians, prepared by the Center and the Association of Research Libraries, is currently being researched and drafted.  The general sentiment of these Codes is the promotion of the liberal use of copyrighted materials without permission or compensation; the creation of new culture preferred over compensation for owners. Further, the Codes are offered as an alternative to the oft-criticized guidelines put forth by Congress and others. However, as I’ve posed previously, the choice of a Code or Guidelines is more a matter of semantics than valid and binding interpretation. A similar issue concerning copyright and the interpretation by users and owners persists in Canada.  The public comment period for Bill C-32, which reforms Canada’s copyright law to expand and clarify fair dealing for education, will soon conclude. The state of the Tariff on Secondary Education remains in limbo. On one side of these issues is Access Copyright, an organization like CCC, whose business is to sell annual licenses to academic institutions; on the other, institutions, faculty and students championing free and liberal use. While Access Copyright is not currently funding any litigation, it is the primary author and proponent of the tariff; it is also a vocal objector to C-32.

In both cases, I do not fully support one side or the other. Behind each message is a messenger with motives, which I may or may not agree with. Of course, in practice, standing in the middle and maintaining an unbiased and objective stance is challenging, particularly when dealing on a daily basis with persons representing the viewpoints on both sides of the fair use vs. fair compensation question. But until the message I hear is one from a legislative or judicial messenger, that is where I will remain standing.


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