Scope of fair use: Library Copyright Alliance submits statement for House judiciary hearing

(29 January 2014) Yesterday, the US House of Representatives Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet held another hearing on copyright review. This hearing focused on the scope of fair use and included five witnesses: Peter Jaszi (professor, American University), June Besek (professor, Columbia University), Naomi Novik (author and co-founder, Organization for Transformative Works), David Lowery (singer/songwriter and lecturer, University of Georgia), and Kurt Wimmer (general counsel, Newspaper Association of America). In advance of the hearing, the Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) submitted a written statement (PDF) discussing how libraries rely on fair use in order to serve their users and meet their mission, how the federal government relies on fair use for photocopying and in the patent examination process, and how rights holders rely on fair use in developing new works. The LCA statement concludes that no changes are needed to the fair use doctrine.

Fair Use and Libraries

The LCA statement begins by noting the numerous areas where fair use allows libraries to achieve their missions and serve library patrons, including “the preservation of and providing access to our cultural, historical, local and scientific heritage; supporting and encouraging research, education, literacy and lifelong learning; and providing a venue for community engagement on a host of issues.” The statement recognizes fair use as “the most important limitation on the rights of the copyright owner—the most important ‘safety valve’ of US copyright law for the public.”

Giving a few specific examples, the LCA statement first points to the importance of fair use for mass digitization of works, including for purposes of creating full-text searches, preservation, and providing access to users with disabilities. Libraries also rely on fair use to ensure digital preservation and provide tailored access programs to orphan works, those works where it is difficult or impossible to identify and locate the rights holder. Fair use also permits libraries to improve accessibility for persons who are visually impaired or have other disabilities.

The statement also explains that the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries, has identified eight situations in which the library community has expressed a consensus regarding acceptable practices for fair use.

The eight situations are described in the complete press release here.