Challenges in Employing
Fair Use in Academic and
Research Libraries
Brandon Butler, Director of Public Policy Initiatives, ARL
cademic and research librarians are at the heart of copyright policy
and practice at their institutions. The balancing features of copyright
law—aspects of the law that allow use of copyrighted works without
requiring payment or permission—are vitally important to these librarians as they
strive to serve a variety of library users. The most flexible (and potentially the
most powerful) of these balancing features is the doctrine of fair use, which judges
apply to permit uses that benefit society more than they harm rightsholders. Some
communities have united behind codes of best practice that help them take
advantage of fair use by articulating how that flexible doctrine applies to their
core practices. The flexibility of fair use can deter communities from using it,
however, when users are unsure how to apply the doctrine to their practice.
With funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, ARL—in
collaboration with American University’s Center for Social Media and the
Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property at American
University’s Washington College of Law—is conducting a three-stage project
to help academic and research libraries better employ fair use. The recently
completed first stage consisted of confidential interviews with 65 librarians to
determine how they were interpreting and using fair use in five key areas of
practice: support for teaching and learning, support for faculty and student
scholarship, preservation, exhibition and public outreach, and serving disabled
communities. In the second stage, the project team will convene a series of
round-table discussions with academic and research librarians that will serve
as the basis for a code of best practices in fair use for academic and research
libraries. Finally, the third stage will involve outreach to academic and research
librarians, as well as related groups who influence library policy, such as
administrators and university counsel, to promote the widest possible
understanding and adoption of the code. This article summarizes the findings
from the first stage of the project.
RLI 273
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