Copyright Resources for Librarians

Created for R. David Lankes’ Fall 2010 IST 511 Introduction to Library and Information Professions class at Syracuse University.

Copyright, First Sale, and Fair Use in Libraries

Libraries enjoy special rights that allow them to share information with members. The First Sale doctrine in copyright law allows libraries to lend books to members and Fair Use gives libraries the right to copy and distribute copyrighted materials within certain limitations. Copyright law can be very confusing if you don’t know what you’re doing, so here are some resources to help you learn about copyright law as it pertains to libraries, so you can better serve your community without infringing on the rights of copyright holders.

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Journal Articles


History of copyright: what is copyright? (2005). Retrieved November 29, 2010 from,

This website provides detailed information about the history of copyright for people to reference. Details about the history of copyright in England, whose laws would later serve as guidelines for United States copyright regulations, are explained. In-depth analysis and reviews of U.S. copyright laws, international laws, early writings and book printing and first copyright laws are given. In each section, there are direct quotes from the laws, along with explanations that explain them. At the end of each section, there are references readers may use to find more information.

U.S. Copyright Office. (2006, July 12). Copyright in general. Retrieved November 29, 2010, from

In 2006, the U.S. Copyright Office designed and revised its webpage, providing readers with answers to general questions about copyright. Terms, differences and matters regarding copyright are thoroughly and easily explained. The site also includes what literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works are protected under copyright laws. There are additional links for people to reference that explain further regulations of copyright, as well as direct phrases of the law.

Copyright. (2008) American Library Association. Retrieved from:

On the American Library Association website under the Issues and Advocacy section it offers comprehensive information on the issues and history of copyright. It covers Anti-privacy and copyright legislation as well as Acts and court cases pertaining to copyright. For each is a summary of the legislation, act or court case and how it relates to libraries.

Copyright in the Library. (2003) University of Texas System. Retrieved from:

This website offers comprehensive material on copyright issues in the library, such as Fair Use and Library Reproduction. It covers the issues libraries deals with, such as software, course packs and research copies and what would be covered under Fair Use.

Journal Articles:

The Incredible Digital Journey

Hawkins, D.T. (2007). The incredible digital journey. Information Today, 24(5).

In 2007, Donald T. Hawkins, a journalist with Information Today, interviewed Lynne Brindley, the chief executive of The British Library, about her concerns and interest in the future of the library. Like many who look towards the future, Brindley was interested in discussing the digitization of materials and how that relates copyright law and her collection. Although she is British and works in a British library, information that goes digital has the potential for being used world-wide; therefore, libraries everywhere must respect and be knowledgeable about the copyright laws relevant to the information that they are providing access to. Brindley displays her knowledge and awareness of this through her interview with Hawkins.

Opening up Content in HathiTrust: Using HathiTrust Permissions Agreements to Make Authors’ Work Available

Levine, M. (2010). Opening up content in hathitrust: using hathitrust permissions agreements to make authors’ work available. Research Library Issues, 269. Retrieved from

An example of a current online database run by a library that maintains awareness of copyright is the HathiTrust. The HathiTrust is “a repository based at the University of Michigan for the digitized content of some of the nation’s great research libraries.” If information is not available to the HathiTrust because of possible copyright infringements “HathiTrust partners do not [make this information] available — or [they make it] available under very limited circumstances, such as for certified users with disability who need to make use of a screen reader in order to access materials.” In this way the HathiTrust both respects copyright holders and makes information available to its users. In this article, Melissa Levine outlines the work of HathiTrust, the participants in the project, and its future objectives.

Electronic Copyright Management Systems: Dream, Nightmare or Reality?

Cornish, G.P. (1997). Electronic copyright management systems: dream, nightmare or reality?. IFLA Journal, 23(4), Retrieved from doi: 10.1177/034003529702300410

Back in 1997, Graham Cornish, a librarian at the British Library specializing in copyright issues, looked into the future of libraries in terms of electronic and digital materials and how copyright may interfere with making them available to the public. He outlined the needs that should be met in order for electronic libraries and material to be functional. According to Cornish, copyright in digital libraries should be considered from three perspectives, that of the user, the provider, and the copyright holder. This article details his expectations of these three parties.

Will the First Sale Doctrine Disappear?

Klinefelter, Anne. (2001, May). Will the first sale doctrine disappear? Information Outlook, 5(5). Retrieved November 29, 2010, from

This article discusses whether or not the first-sale doctrine will disappear because electronic sources are quickly becoming used as much as print resources, if not more. This doctrine is one of the most vital laws for libraries because it allows them to lend materials to patrons and the community. Libraries purchase books, therefore, making them owners of print materials that may be lent, as long as no copies are produced. Electronic resources prove to be difficult because of licensing agreements an the difficulty of determining who is the owner of information on the web. The author provides recommendations on why the first-sale doctrine should remain, and why it is important for librarians and libraries to fight to keep it.

Copyright and Copy-reliant Technology

Sag, M. (2009). Copyright and copy-reliant technology. Northwestern University Law Review, 103(4), 1607-1682. Retrieved from ProQuest Research Library.

This article discusses the complex matter of machines copying works for non-expressive use, such as indexing, and how that relates to current copyright laws.

Using Digital Materials in Online Courses: A Cautionary Tale of Georgia State University

Talab, R. (2008). Using digital materials in online courses: A cautionary tale of Georgia State University. Tech Trends, 52(4), 30-32. Retrieved from ProQuest Research Library.

This article gives background on the Georgia State University copyright controversy, and its implications for the greater academic library community that host learning management systems, e-reserves, and other content management systems.  Also has a list of helpful websites on how to comply with newly written content standards.

Building Universal Digital Libraries: An Agenda for Copyright Reform

Travis, H. (2006). Building universal digital libraries: An agenda for copyright reform. Pepperdine Law Review, 761(33), 1-23. Retrieved from

This law review explains why the current environment for digital content is unsustainable, and makes the case that copyright laws need attention immediately in order to allow the storage, distribution, and use of digital materials.


Copyright in Cyberspace 2: Questions and Answers

Hoffman, Gretchen McCord. (2005) Copyright in cyberspace 2: Questions and answers. New York, NY.

This book focuses on copyright laws involving the Internet and it briefly covers the history of copyright and how it has shaped libraries over the years. Most of the book, however, is about copyright laws and how it has affected how librarians use the Internet and the specific laws and legislation that exist which pertain to libraries. The author also makes a point to let the reader know that librarians are at the forefront of the copyright debate because they must be the champions for free access to information.

Intellectual Property: Everything the Digital-Age Librarian Needs to Know

Wherry, T. L. (2008). Intellectual property: Everything the digital-age librarian needs to know. Chicago: American Library Association

Published by the American Library Association, this book attempts to help librarians understand the issues related to copyright and intellectual property rights in the ever-changing digital environment. A librarian and expert in copyright issues, Wherry provides concrete definitions, examples of court cases, and even trivia to prepare librarians for understanding their legal rights and boundaries in regards to using digital content in libraries.


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