Copyright in the Academy Library

Firstly, I just like to say that I find the posts that have been made this week to be extremely interesting, kudos to all the Slaw-ers out there. After reading these posts I am coming around to the idea that copyright has met its match with digital technology. Up to this point, the format of information has been nearly as important as the information itself. The digital age is rendering format obsolete, CDs, DVD’s, VHS, Television are being pushed aside by a digital file that can easily be formatted, manipulated and copied. If I were in the video store business I would be getting out post haste.

Unfortunately, I am not going to point you to any repository of copyright info that I have been saving to post on Slaw nor do I have a particular insight to offer. What I am going to write about are the particular copyright issues that I am confronted with here in an academic library setting.

The digital revolution has hit academia with equal, if not more, force than it has elsewhere, however no heads have rolled with this revolution. I’ll leave it for you to decide if that is a good thing….

In the library specifically, we now find ourselves making collections decisions based upon what we might have available to us electronically. If journal X is available in that aggregator package, then, we will subscribe to journal Y in print. The problems arise with the status of journal X. Six months from now the terms of that aggregator package might have changed and journal X disappears from the package. When we purchase a journal in print, we know that we have it until the paper crumbles or someone borrows it for an extended period of time. With journal X in digital form, can we rely on having that issue 15 years from now? Can we use the digital edition to fill our interlibrary loan requests? What about our distance students who never set foot on campus or even the country?

We also struggle with what we can do with digital collections. Securities law has 65 people in it, we have 2 copies of the text on reserve. With law school tuition rocketing skyward, some students choose to rely on library editions to get them through the year. But if there are more students who choose this than there are editions on reserve how do we make the text available to them? Scanning certain texts from our reserve collection to make them available electronically would be an elegant solution, but I imagine the publisher’s solution to our dilemma would be to buy more editions and they might not take kindly to the scanning of the text.

Some faculty members resist technology in the classroom and use the notes they have been teaching from for the past 15 years, others have embraced the technology and make available anything they can get their hands on. The first group does not have too many copyright concerns to worry about, the second group can be more problematic. If someone borrows from our collection or utilizes ILL to violate copyright, is it our responsibility to inform them of the issues involved or is a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy more effective?

What about the student who is using our computers to burn content and run a cd or dvd reselling business out of the back of a van around the corner?

These are all questions that we have had to deal with here, some have easier answers than others but the questions and the answers continue to evolve.

And now for something completely different (do I have to get permission to use that line?). It seems that the judge in the Da Vinci case has hidden his own code in the text of the decision.


  1. Mark – see and

    Slaw’s been on this story for a while.

    And just to let the cat out of the bag, the lawyer who broke the secret to the SmithyCode JACKIEFISHERWHOAREYOUDREADNOUGHT has written his account of how he cracked it – see,,329467468-116480,00.html from this morning’s Guardian

  2. These are all good and interesting points, Mark -one of the key issues in the copyright issue in legal academic is the extent to which commercial legal publishers control the distribution of academic scholarship. This has been an impetus for groups like the Free Access to Law Movement Law is behind other academic disciplines, particularly the hard sciences, in taking control of the creation and distribution of its own literature. See for reference the work presently being done by SPARC . I think this is now starting to happen to some degree, but the print paradigm of scholarship and publication still reign pretty much supreme in the legal academy. See my post and comments at .