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Fair-Use Guide Seeks to Solve Librarians’ VHS-Cassette Problem
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T;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;of Research Libraries might have a solu- tion to what some librarians
call “the VHS-cassette problem.”
Here’s the scenario: An academic
library has a collection of videotapes
that is slowly deteriorating, thanks
to the fragile nature of analog me-
dia. A librarian would like to digi-
tize the collection for future use but
avoids making the copies out of fear
that doing so would violate copy-
right law. And the institution’s law-
yers have advised the librarian that
the fair-use principle, which might
offer a way to make copies legally,
is too ;exible to rely on.
When the Association of Re-
search Libraries and a team of
fair-use advocates surveyed librar-
ians to ;nd out how they navigate
copyright issues, many of them
described that exact conundrum.
But they may soon have a way out.
This month the group announced
a code of best practices designed
to outline ways academic librar-
ians can take advantage of their
fair-use rights to navigate common
The new code is one of a series
published with the help of Patricia
Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi, a pair
of American University scholars
known for pushing back against the
restrictions of copyright law. The
duo has helped several professional
communities develop similar codes.
Brandon Butler, director of pub-
lic-policy initiatives at the Associa-
tion of Research Libraries, said this
guide is different from early fair-use
guidelines for libraries, which he
described as narrowly crafted “safe
harbors” that had the unintended ef-
fect of making it more dif;cult for
librarians to do their jobs. Mr. But-
ler said this version gives librarians
a collective voice that they haven’t
enjoyed in the past.
“It’s not meant to be a legal memo
handed down from on high telling
librarians, We the lawyers have told
you: Here are your rights,” he said.
“It’s meant actually to be exactly
the opposite of that. It’s meant to
be a brief from the librarians to the
lawyers saying, We know a little bit
about fair use, too, and here’s what
we think are our rights.”
The team assembled the code dur-
ing nearly 40 hours of group discus-
sions with research librarians, Mr.
Butler said. It identi;es eight com-
mon library practices to which the
fair-use principle can be applied,
like making special-collections
items available electronically and
creating digital versions of library
materials for patrons with disabili-
ties. Each principle includes a set of
limitations and enhancements that
further specify how a fair-use claim
can be made. A consensus about the
eight items did not emerge imme-
diately, Mr. Butler said, especially
when some of the principles dis-
cussed material posted on the Web.
“There’s a kind of feeling that if
you do something on the Internet,
that’s especially dangerous,” he said.
“We’ve been doing physical exhibits
for time immemorial, but once it’s
on the Internet, anyone in the world
can see it, and maybe they could even
copy it. And that creates a special
Eventually, the discussion groups
realized that self-censoring their on-
line activities would be contrary to
their mission as librarians.
Then and Now
Named for the Wright brothers
and located minutes from where
the ;rst aviators developed their
;ying machines, Wright State
University is proudly based in
historic Dayton, Ohio.
A century ago, the Wright
brothers invented the airplane.
Today, we’re building a new
generation of innovative thinkers
and dreamers in engineering
in order to advance aerospace
and create jobs for Ohio.
Like the Wright brothers, Wright
State is well ahead of the curve.
Continuing the legacy of
the Wright brothers
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