Miscellaneous Issues

There are a number of questions about copyright issues important to librarians, faculty members, authors, and publishers that do not fit into any of the other topical chapters. Those questions have been gathered into this final chapter. Because of the wide variety of questions in this chapter, it is not easy to introduce them.

There are questions about the nature of fair use, whether public libraries qualify for the exceptions that are available to nonprofit educational institutions, whether for-profit schools may take advantage of the nonprofit educational institution exceptions, and the meaning in section 108(a) of the Copyright Act of "open to the public." Other questions focus on the difference in musical works and sound recordings, the use of abstracts and the impact of the Americans with Disabilities Action copyright rights and exceptions. There are also questions on copyright litigation, ranging from the statute of limitations for copyright actions to compliance with court orders, from statutory damages to abandonment of copyright. Questions about whether copyright and patent should be included in the same policy and if fair use is a defense to copyright infringement or a right are also included.

Librarians are often involved in the drafting and adoption of copyright law policies for their institutions and organizations. They are concerned about the personal liability of librarians for copyright infringement by patrons, as well as a librarian's level of responsibility to explain copyright law to users. The role and job duties of scholarly communications officers are also discussed.

What should an independent business research firm do when its clients request monthly digests or synopses of news developments on various topics?

This could include monitoring competitor activities that are covered in the news media or tracking issues and trends. The clients then want to distribute these summaries and synopses widely within their companies.

This question indirectly raises the problem of using author- or publisher-produced abstracts versus doing one's own work. Published abstracts are separately copyrighted as adaptations of the original work, and the copyright belongs to the author, or it may have been transferred to the publisher.

Gathering information, summarizing the factual content, and producing a report for a client is a fair use as long as the work the research firm does is original and does not copy extensive portions of copyrighted works. To some extent, this may be the difference in an annotation and an abstract. The annotation describes the work rather than extracts the research results. It uses phrases such as "the author indicates that . . ." and "there are four pie charts illustrating. . . ." Such summaries are fair use as long as they do not supplant the market for the original. Therefore, a client that distributes them within the company should not present problems. The research firm may want to place some notice on the summary to indicate that the research product is not to be used outside the client's business.

If either the firm or a client company has an Annual Copyright License from the Copyright Clearance Center, it may cover using such abstracts for clients. The best course of action is to talk with the firm's CCC representative to explore coverage.

An online news service produces abstracts of copyrighted articles and stories and publishes them online. (1) Does a content owner have any legal grounds on which to prohibit abstracts of that content, whether the work is available online or in print? (2) Does it make a difference if the news service is provided free of charge and for noncommercial purposes, plus includes appropriate attribution of the original source? (3) Could the service simply include a link to the site on which the item originally appeared, even if access to some of these requires a subscription fee?

(1) Abstracts that are condensations or relatively full summaries of the contents of a copyrighted work probably do require permission since, as summaries or condensations of the original work, they are derivative works. If, however, the abstract is merely descriptive of the contents, then there is no problem. For example, "This article discusses these four topics, has a chart on X that appears on page Y, and is written by this expert."

(2) The fact that the online news service is not for profit is important, but it is not the deciding factor since even commercial use may be fair use. Attribution of the original content is important but does not excuse copyright infringement. Attribution is a plagiarism issue rather than a copyright problem.

(3) To link to an online article that the news service abstracts, no permission is required under the conditions described in the question. The fact that a link to the content on a publisher's web page requires a password to access the content is no problem. Many such lists of links include password-protected links; the user at least knows that the item is online and can decide whether to subscribe in order to obtain the full-text content.

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