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Magazines > Information Today > February 2006
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Information Today

Vol. 23 No. 2 — February 2006

Intellectual Property: Library Schools and the Copyright Knowledge Gap
By K. Matthew Dames

Years from now, once librarians gain the benefit of perspective fostered by temporal separation, we will consider 2005 a watershed year. Certainly, epochal change has been discussed for some time, but last year, a series of events ensured that information switched its dominant format from analog to digital. Consider the following:

• Last September, a consortium of publishers and writers sued Google, alleging the search giant’s Book Search digitization project infringed upon several of the publishers’ exclusive copyright rights (

• Last November, the Library of Congress announced its creation of the World Digital Library, an online collection of rare books,
manuscripts, and other materials that will be freely available for viewing by anyone, anywhere, with Internet access.

• Inspired by Project Gutenberg (the Web’s first and largest collection of e-books), Hugh McGuire created LibriVox, a project whereby volunteers record chapters of books in the public domain then transfer those recordings into MP3 files that are available for free on the Web (

• Last May, an associate university librarian at the UCLA Library announced that the library would no longer buy 540 print titles but, instead, get those titles exclusively in electronic format, a move that was part of a cost-cutting initiative.

• For at least 18 months, murmurs from the Association of American Publishers (AAP) have focused on alleged illegalities about how university systems administer their electronic course reserve collections. Although AAP has yet to file a lawsuit, the Section 108 Study Group is preparing findings for the Librarian of Congress (
. The findings, which are due by mid-2006, will investigate possible changes to Section 108 of the Copyright Act, the law that provides copyright exceptions for libraries and archives. If the group does not develop recommendations that the publishing industry approves, the industry may launch a campaign similar to the music industry’s lawsuits against alleged illegal file sharers.

Each of these events affects libraries in significant ways, and all of them involve a complex understanding of copyright law. From digitization projects to interlibrary loan and from electronic reserves to electronic books, copyright law is having an impact on librarianship.

The Push for Education

Why have the nation’s accredited graduate library science programs categorically failed to provide copyright law instruction?

I first noticed the absence of comprehensive copyright education in librarianship in the summer of 2002, a year after I graduated from Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies. When I proposed creating a seminar called Digital Copyright for Librarians to Syra­cuse administrators, I noted that some schools offered a broad information policy course that included a copyright component, but no American Library Association (ALA)-accredited program offered a seminar that addressed copyright law with­in the context of library and information science. Fortunately, my alma mater decided to accept my proposal to teach such a course; I have been teaching a weeklong graduate copyright seminar at the school since 2003.

Given the critical copyright issues for libraries—the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the Uniform Commercial Information Transactions Act (UCITA), the Eldred case fighting the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, and the Section 108 Study Group—I had hoped our nation’s library schools would have made copyright education a priority. Instead, I found an alarming absence of education in this area.

Critical Library Management

Out of the 49 ALA-accredited graduate library science programs in the continental U.S., I found only two schools—Syracuse University and Emporia State University in Kansas—that offer a copyright course. In fact, less than half (only 24 of the 49 schools) offer a course that addresses information policy or legal issues on any level. Even if we expanded the scope of inquiry beyond copyright to policy issues such as the USA PATRIOT Act or patron confidentiality, half the accredited programs provide no instruction for such critical library management issues.

Finally, ALA’s own document “Guidelines for Choosing a Master’s Program in Library and Information Studies” (
does not provide information about the need for special training, including training in copyright education or information policy work.

Given the importance of copyright issues in daily professional librarianship and library advocacy, it speaks poorly for our profession that so many librarians enter the workforce without proper grounding in copyright, the legal construct that governs the creation, reproduction, distribution, and repurposing of information. To quote Hamlet (while freely availing myself of public domain privileges), “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Copyright knowledge is as integral a part of the contemporary information science education as cataloging or reference. Failing to provide that training for today’s library science students is akin to having students pay money for an incomplete degree.

New IT columnist K. Matthew Dames, doctorate of juris­prudence, holds an M.L.S. and is the executive editor of CopyCense (, an online publication that covers the intersection of business, law, and technology. He also is an adjunct professor at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies. His e-mail address is  Send your comments about this column to
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