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GIR Member Viewpoint - March 2012

Best Strategies for Copyright Management: Questions, Confusion and Risk in the Digital World

Pamela S. Bradigan, J.D., M.S.L.S., Director, Health Sciences Library and Assistant Vice President, Health Sciences at the Ohio State University
Anne T. Gilliland, J.D., M.S.L.I.S., Head, Copyright Management Office, Health Sciences Library at the Ohio State University

The role of the Health Sciences Copyright Management Office (CMO) as part of the Health Sciences Library at the Ohio State University provides a successful example of how to provide copyright education to health sciences students, faculty, and staff.  Copyright issues and questions in the health sciences arise during activities such as preparing patient handouts and information; showing moving pictures for staff or patient groups; a variety of publicity efforts, including social media initiatives; publications related to teaching and conferences; and the sharing of results from evidence-based research. At the Ohio State University, the perfect “fit” for the CMO has been within the library.  The library’s traditional role and mission provide a focus on copyright education rather than on litigation alone. 

Throughout most universities, intellectual property is expensive and highly prized, and can often involve controversy.  Currently those controversies include litigation over electronic reserves (Georgia State), over digitization projects (Google Book Search and the Hathi Trust) and over streaming video (UCLA). Most work being today is in copyright from its inception, because, under the current U.S. law, creative expression is copyrighted as soon as it is fixed in tangible form. Copyright protects not only the arts, but also creative expression in the sciences.  The copyright holder’s exclusive rights are broad and include the rights of reproduction, distribution, publication, performance, display, making derivative works, and making digital audio transmissions.

Because of the broadness of these exclusive rights and the long durations of copyright terms, the law’s copyright exceptions are crucial in order to allow for ongoing creativity, scholarship, and research within higher education. The most important statutory exception to copyright for U.S. universities is fair use.  Invoking the fair use exception involves balancing the four factors in the statute:  the purpose and character of the use; the nature of the work; the amount and substantiality of the part used; and the effect on the market or on the work’s value.  Although the process of deciding whether a use is fair can seem nebulous, the statute is flexible and allows for new uses and new situations as they arise.  When fair use or another statutory exception cannot be claimed, a person who wants to use a copyrighted work must obtain a license, permission from the rights holder to engage in one of the exclusive rights.

The Health Sciences Library established the CMO in 2005 because of the need for faculty, staff, and students to learn more about fair use and to obtain copyright licenses when it did not apply.  At the time, no other health sciences group provided this service.  After identifying funding for the operation, the Library consulted with Health Sciences Office of Legal Affairs to develop a position description, reporting line, and educational requirements for the CMO’s leader.  The CMO serves all health sciences, centers and institutes, the Medical Center, and all university hospitals.  The head of the CMO has both a law degree and a Master’s degree in library science. The CMO’s work extends the collaborative educational and scholarly work that is ongoing in the academic health sciences library.    The CMO promotes the use of the Library resources to the fullest extent possible; provides education in intellectual property; and assists in managing risks related to use of intellectual content.

The Library established a budget to pay for copyright “permissions” licenses when they are needed for a customer to use resources in a legally compliant way.  This “one stop” approach with copyright reduces barriers for customers and encourages responsible use of intellectual property throughout the health sciences.

Since 2005 the CMO’s offerings have expanded to include topics such as authors’ rights, open access, public domain materials, and trademark.  These services along with promotional efforts have resulted in significant growth, with a 50% increase from 2005 to 2010 in the number of questions the CMO answered, and an 87% increase in questions from 2010 to 2011. Today the CMO is a key component of the Library’s services and encourages all health sciences customers to identify, incorporate, and build upon the best evidence or authoritative intellectual content in the work they do in the classrooms, clinics and in their research.

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