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Where to Learn About Copyright
Posted On September 11, 2018
The ability to share informa­tion has never been so easy. As a result, online piracy and copy­right infringement have been running rampant. As far back as 2010, an article on Bright Hub noted, “Resources say that at least 80 percent of Americans admit to downloading illegal merchandise on the Internet without paying for it. Thirty percent of software on a com­puter is pirated in the United States. Every year the [number] of materials that are stolen is on the rise. Experts say the reason that so much merchandise is stolen each year is because we have a weak education on the consequenc­es you receive for stealing materi­al.”

In other words, users tend to have little or no understanding of copyright and, consequently, copy­right infringement. This NewsBreak, although not to be construed as a substitute for a thorough education on the ins and outs of copyright, lists some of the key resources that address questions on the topic.

U.S. Copyright Office

The U.S Copyright Office website has an Educa­tion section that features a search­able database of court opinions on fair use, an FAQ, historical docu­ments and publications, events at the Copyright Office, and sourc­es for students and teachers. Its Taking the Mystery Out of Copy­right page provides a section called Reading the Fine Print, in which a character named Cop E. Wright explores topics such as “If it’s on the internet, can I use it?” and “Is it OK to use up to 5% of someone else’s work?” The “Copyright Ex­posed” video also features Cop E. Wright, who tells “a group of teens the basics of U.S. Copyright Law.” In addition, the Copyright Office publishes a free newsletter, News­Net, which lists pending legislation and rele­vant copyright events.

Drop-down topics on the Copy­right Office’s homepage include News, Law and Guidance, and Pol­icy Issues. Quick links are provided for copyright modernization efforts across the entire Copyright Office; Copyright Law of the U.S as writ­ten in Title 17 of the U.S. Code; the Code of Federal Regulations’ Ti­tle 37—Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights; and the third edition of the Compendium of U.S Copyright Office Practices, which is “the tech­nical manual for the Office’s staff, as well as a guidebook for authors, copyright licensees, practitioners, scholars, the courts, and members of the general public. It address­es fundamental principles of copy­right law, routine questions about accessing the Office’s public servic­es, and the policies and procedures the Office uses in the course of con­ducting business.”

Copyright Clearance Center

Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) was founded in 1978, the same year the Copy­right Act of 1976 took effect. Its About page says that it “clears the path to integrated data and infor­mation, accelerates knowledge and advances copyright. [It builds] so­lutions that combine licensing, content, software and profession­al services to advance the way peo­ple integrate, access and share information.”

In addition to providing rights management solutions to publish­ers, users from corporations and academic institutions, and librar­ies, CCC offers several education­al resources related to copyright. Its Learn About Copyright page links to an About Copyright section, which features Purpose of Copyright, Global Copyright, Copyright Duration, International Copyright Treaties, Exceptions & Limitations, Licensing Copyright­ed Content, Obtaining Copyright Protection, and Tools and Guide­lines (for businesses, academic institutions, and publishers and authors).

Under the Learn topic, CCC of­fers training and webinars such as Copyright in Academia and Copy­right and Publishing. These ses­sions are also listed in News & Events, along with CCC in the News and the podcast series Be­yond the Book, which offers “The Volume on Audiobooks Going Up … And Up,” “Michelle Obama Takes the ALA Stage,” “The Content Lib­eration Movement,” and more. Ad­ditionally, CCC produces a regu­lar blog, Velocity of Content, which fea­tures posts on topics such as dig­ital transformation for publishers and OA publishing. It also includes tweets from the SLA 2018 Annual Conference. offers courses and edu­cation that give insight into copy­right. According to its website, “ provides independent, non-biased training to help students around the world understand copyright law. … With ongoing online courses, copyright certificate programs, and up-to-date articles, demystifies copyright and teach­es you how it works in your work­place.”

Founder Lesley Ellen Har­ris, who has a law degree, is the CEO of Har­ris “is a copyright consultant, pub­lished author, copyright blogger and educator. She is an expert in navigating copyright issues in to­day’s modern world. Her areas of concentration include U.S. and Ca­nadian copyright law, internation­al copyright law, and licensing digi­tal content.”

Courses are designed to help us­ers understand global copyright law and licensing issues. They can also sign up for a free weekly email featuring tips and additional in­formation. A re­cent edition lists the most common­ly asked questions about copyright duration.

Copyright Alliance

The Copyright Alliance, founded 12 years ago, represents “the copyright in­terests of over 1.8 million individ­ual creators and over 13,000 orga­nizations in the United States” and serves as a resource for issues and policy, as well as current and pro­posed copyright law. It is designed to “educate and inform the copy­right community, policy makers and the public about copyright law.”

In the Resources section, “you can find two types of copyright in­formation: (1) information created or compiled by the Copyright Al­liance to help individual creators and users; and (2) general materi­als about copyright law authored by nongovernmental agencies (ma­terials published by government organizations can be found in the copyright law section of this site).” Tools designed to help individual creators include the following:

  • Find a Copyright Attorney—offers a list of attorneys who specialize in copyright matters, along with their relevant contact information.
  • Creator Assistance Directory—provides independent creators with a list of Volunteer Lawyers of the Arts (VLA) and law clinics that offer pro bono services.
  • Find a Copyright Owner—offers to help potential licensees locate a particular copyright owner. Of course, this service will only benefit those creators who are [Copyright Alliance] members, so if you’re a creator who is not yet a member of the Alliance, you should consider joining now.


The Association of Univer­sity Presses (AAUP) covers copy­right and access: “AAUP provides a number of re­sources and guides for publishers and scholars to work through prac­tical copyright and permissions questions, including a guide to on­line copyright tools. … The Associ­ation also closely follows relevant case law, legislation, and interna­tional policy, as well as the pub­lic debate over open access models and copyright reform.”

The mission of Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain “is to promote research and scholarship on the contribu­tions of the public domain to speech, culture, science and innovation, to promote debate about the balance needed in our intellectual proper­ty system and to translate academ­ic research into public policy solu­tions.” Listed on the site are links to videos of lectures from well-known copyright scholars, such as William W. Fisher’s “The Legal Treatment of Traditional Knowledge” and Paul Goldstein’s “The Americanization of Global Copyright Norms.”

Each year on Jan. 1, the center celebrates Public Domain Day, listing materials that will enter the public domain during that year. On Jan. 1, 2018, the site said, “Canadi­ans can now add a wealth of books, poems, paintings, and musical works by [a selection of] authors to online archives, without asking per­mission or violating the law.” Unfortunately, nothing will enter the pub­lic domain in the U.S. in 2018.

Another university site is the Penn State Copyright Portal, whose goal is to ensure that students, facul­ty members, and staffers make informed decisions about using copyrighted material. The section Copyright Basics offers What Is Copyright?, Constitutional Basis, What’s Covered?, What’s Not Cov­ered, The Copyright Rights, Who Owns the Copyright?, Copyright Duration, What’s the Public Do­main?, and Additional Resources.

Most university libraries fea­ture guidelines about copyright, but if a user is still unsure about what to do, he or she can simply ask a librarian. Other university sites offering copyright informa­tion include the following:

  • Fordham University Libraries’ Copyright Resources: About Copyright—“While copyright is often confusing, familiarity with copyright basics is necessary for all faculty and students. This guide offers comprehensive sources and materials to assist the university community by providing a clearer understanding of the law and its intricacies.”
  • Kent State University Libraries’ Copyright Resources—Its topics are Essential Copyright Web Sites, Public Domain Information, Fair Use, The TEACH Act and Other Exceptions for Instructors, Identifying and Locating Copyright Owners, Obtaining Permissions, Orphan Works, and Current Copyright Readings.
  • University of Michigan Library’s Copyright Basics—“Our office provides information to help you make decisions about sharing and using copyrighted material in your research, learning, and teaching.”
  • Stanford University Libraries’ Copyright & Fair Use—Its About page says it “includes primary case law, statutes, regulations, as well as current feeds of newly filed copyright lawsuits, pending legislation, regulations, copyright office news, scholarly articles, blog and twitter feeds from practicing attorneys and law professors.”
  • Ohio State University Libraries’ Copyright Services—“Copyright Services supports Ohio State faculty, staff, and students by providing education and guidance on the application of copyright law to facilitate teaching, research, and scholarship.”

Library Organizations

ALA offers several resources on copyright, particularly in areas such as current issues and legislation. A related resource is the Library Copyright Alliance, whose members include ALA, the Association of Re­search Libraries (ARL), and ACRL. And of course, there are a multi­tude of copyright-related resourc­es available at your local library. Always make sure you know the copyright status of a work before you reuse, copy, or share it.

Corilee Christou is president of C2 Consulting, a firm that specializes in leveraging and licensing digital content of all types to traditional and internet-based companies using new and innovative business models.

Email Corilee Christou

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