Copyright for Beginners: Notes from a Seminar

On 11 September 2012, I attended a seminar titled “Critical Copyright Issues for Corporate Librarians and Information Professionals,” presented by Robert Weisberg of Access Copyright, and hosted by the Special Libraries Association (SLA) and the Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI).

In the following post, I will record my notes from the session, which may or may not be helpful to others in understanding today’s copyright issues. I will also provide some external sources with more detailed information, for those who want to read further.

Copyright 101

  • Copyright provides incentive for creation and dissemination.
  • Intellectual property, including patents, trademarks, industrial designs (such as the shape of chairs) can be copyrighted.
  • Grants copyright owners the exclusive right to decide what others may do with their intellectual property/works.
  • Copyright protects the expression of an idea; original works.
  • Once, this meant the fixed expression – how is the definition of “fixed” expression changing? (this question is one often pondered by book historians)
  • Traditional works and neighboring or associated rights, i.e., the modification/change of the type of expression (VHS -> DVD?)
  • Copyright law includes the term “technology neutral,” which supposedly provides for changes in types of works (e.g. VHS -> DVD)
  • Databases, as new venues for expression, are tricky. The ideas and facts expressed in databases are not copyrightable, but if the database expresses or organizes them in a unique way, that expression may be copyrightable.
  • Copyright law includes the phrase: “exercise of skill and judgement” in determining what works may be considered. This can include the level of creativity invested in the work.
  • Copyright ownership means that the author is presumed the first owner, except in the cases of photographs, Crown publications, and work created in the course of employment.

Economic and Moral Rights

  • Economic rights protect $$$
  • Moral rights protect the personality or reputation of the author, including attribution, integrity, and association.

Robertson v. Thompson Corporation (2006)

Main factor in the ruling on this case: decontextualization.


  • Images, graphs, charts, and diagrams: Do publishers have the right to use the image independently of the publication?
  • Assignment: when the assignee becomes the new owner.
  • License: (exclusive or non-exclusive) Permission to use or do something with a work that would be otherwise illegal – licenses can be spread among a number of content providers.
  • Moral rights: May not be assigned, but may be waived.

Copyright Infringement

  • Is anything not allowed or consented to by the owner.
  • Includes authorizing, and secondary infringement.
  • After infringement occurs, the common solution is to renegotiate a license with penalties for the culprit.
  • Exceptions to statutory infringement: Libraries, archives, and museums, which can copy copyrighted works for the purposes of preservation (to prevent deterioration, for out-of-print works), and for patron research and private study.
  • Fair Dealing: Consists of two steps: 1) determine if the purpose qualifies as non-infringing. 2) Is the dealing fair? Consider: purpose, character, amount, alternatives, nature, effect.

Copyright Modernization Act / Bill C-11

  • Technical protection measures: access controls vs. copy controls. Copy controls are used on CDs and DVDS – for personal use, can be broken. Access controls are incredibly protected.
  • Exception for non-commercial user-generated content (UGC)
  • Recent Supreme Court decisions: downloading vs. streaming. Downloading does not require a license, while streaming does. (Ever wonder why Netflix removes movies from their streaming library?)

Challenges (for info pros and corporate librarians)

  • tracking use, ownership access
  • tracking content owned by an organization
  • onus is on the people using the copyrighted content

Notices and Licenses

  • All rights reserved – can do nothing with the property
  • study and research is often encouraged in licenses
  • Creative Commons licenses (e.g. Flickr)
  • Open Access
  • Print: check copyright pages, mastheads
  • Databases, content delivery services: check legal terms and conditions of agreement with the content provider

Discussion/ Q&A

  • Digital Millenium Copyright Act in the States
  • Orphan works
  • Conference proceedings are something to be concerned about

For Further Reading

  1. About Copyright in the United States (2012)
  2. A brief summary from SLA on the recent changes to Canadian copyright law (Harris, L.E., 2012)
  3. About U.S., Canadian, and international copyright laws (2012)
  4. Canadian copyright news and information from Access Copyright (2010)
  5. Ontario Court of Appeals record for the Robertson vs. Thompson Corporation case (2004)
  6. On copyright ownership of class notes (Kunvay, 2012)


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