“A fair for all and no fare for anybody!”

In the ever shifting world of copyright and user-rights there have been some interesting developments over the last few weeks.

This New York Times article begins:

“A trade group that includes Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and other high-tech companies has asked federal regulators to order changes in copyright warnings.”

It is the Computer and Communications Industry Association’s position that the strict (and somewhat fear-inducing) copyright warnings that content owners (NBC, NFL, etc.) are placing on their products are misleading consumers about their rights under fair use laws. Of course in Canada we have our fair dealing provisions but the basic principal is the same, regarding the question about whether content owners are overreaching in their efforts to protect their materials.

In an effort to bring more attention to this issue, an American professor has been going through an ongoing battle with the NFL over the use of a brief Superbowl clip she put up on YouTube.

A Wall Street Journal article also reports on this issue and mentions how it also applies to printed materials:

The CCIA said copyright holders should let audiences know they may have a right to reproduce some of the work. They even provide examples of how it can be done, as in this warning in the John Wiley & Son’s 2007 book “Hotel California.” The warning says, “No part of this publication may be reproduced…except as permitted under Section 107 or 108 of the United States Copyright Act,” referring to the sections that deal with fair use and reproduction by libraries and archives.

While the CCIA has some praise for how John Wiley & Sons provide a “fair and balanced” copyright warning they apparently don’t feel the same way about Reed Elsevier:

“A spokesman for Reed Elsevier PLC’s Harcourt Inc., one of the publishers named in the complaint, said he hadn’t seen it and declined to comment.”

It is interesting to see the group making this complaint includes Microsoft and Google, considering that a few months ago Microsoft was trying portray themselves as the righteous protectors of copyright compared to Google who they accuse of having a laissez-faire attitude to copyright violations on their services.

This article from IP Democracy and this one from Search Engine Land provide some interesting quotes and analysis that make you wonder how it is possible that these two companies are now working together on the issue of copyright. I suppose the answer can partly be summed up by a quote from the New York Times article above by law professor Roger Schecter:

“We’re getting into these fights because the law is lagging behind technology.”

Or to put it another way, digital media, copyright law and mutual self-interest make strange bedfellows.

Focusing on this issue from a library perspective, Howard Knopf at Excess Copyright mentions that the American based Library Copyright Alliance has come out in support of the CCIA’s efforts and mentions that:

“It would be really nice if Canadian libraries could more often take such strong, unified and useful positions on copyright matters.”

The issue of Canadian libraries/educational institutions and copyright can’t be discussed without bringing in our friend Access Copyright. The U of T Faculty Blog delves into this, claiming that a copyright warning Access Copyright requires schools to affix to material in coursepacks, “is highly inaccurate and misstates the law.”

Michael Geist mentions the novel idea of requiring that the cultural bodies that receive some-level of public funding should be required to use non-misleading copyright notices on their published works or they would not receive funding.

While Canadian institutions grudgingly accept Access Copyright’s role in overseeing usage of print-based materials, their is a wariness of allowing them to gain a foothold in the growing sphere of digital materials (online course reserves, course management systems, etc.).

This does mean that schools are responsible for contacting individual publishers for the use of their materials in an electronic format. Needless to say this is a labour intensive process that often leaves those requesting the use of the material frustrated.

It appears that the Copyright Clearance Center (the US version of Access Copyright) is moving ahead with an annual license for academic institutions that goes beyond the blanket paper-to-paper license most Canadian institutions have.

“Copyright Clearance Center, Inc. (CCC), the world’s largest provider of text-licensing solutions, today announced the launch of the Annual Copyright License for academic institutions, a single license that provides faculty and staff with convenient, pre-approved permissions to use content in course management systems, paper and electronic coursepacks, electronic library reserves, research collaboration and more.”

Some people raise the issue about whether signing on to agreements like this will lead to a weakening of efforts to maintain fair use rights.

The June 29, 2007 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education has an article (password protected) about Middlebury Colleges’ partnership with the CCC in shaping this licensing product.

While the article has praise for how this license simplifies the copyright clearance process, this article from a California State University at Northridge paper points out how the gaps in the number of participating publishers means they currently are not interested in signing up for such a license.

For those of us stick in the middle of the tug-of-war between users and content providers there is some hope that steps are being taken to acknowledge the reality that in the digital age users want more flexibility with how they can use material they have paid for.

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