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A five-point plan to become an acknowledged copyright authority

By Lesley Ellen Harris, | Sept 22, 2016

Image of librarian and copyright symbol

Many times I hear non-lawyers say they’ve become the “go-to” person at work for copyright issues, regardless of whether they’re librarians, library directors or information managers. They may work in an academic or corporate library, archive, museum, for-profit or non-profit organization, but may not hold a formal title including the word “copyright.”


If you feel that you’ve fallen into this position (or if you’ve chosen it), follow the five-point plan below to help ensure colleagues acknowledge your expertise — you’ll know you’ve been successful as the copyright questions and requests flood in. The five-point plan is for any non-lawyer who’s that go-to copyright person. 



1. Get authority


If you’re handling copyright and licensing issues but your job title doesn’t have the word “copyright” in it, get that changed. You want fellow employees to find you in the company directory; you need people to follow your advice when you tell them they can’t copy a newsletter or other item; and you need confirmation in your own mind that you are, in fact, the go-to copyright person.


If you’re going to be guiding people on copyright compliance, senior management should be aware of your role and why certain things are or aren’t permitted, and your fellow employees need to recognize your role in this complex and often frustrating area. You need authority to provide advice and guidance and ensure copyright compliance where necessary.



2. Get correct information


Take the time to find out what’s happening on the copyright and licensing front in your library and organization. What sorts of copyright materials are being used? Are print books an issue or just electronic books? Are there questions regarding public showings of movies or concerns relating to copying sound recordings? Do you have licensing agreements that no one can understand? How are copyright and licensing issues resolved? Do you answer questions about copyright and licensing issues, or are they dealt with in different ways by different people? As that go-to copyright person, you can help organize and streamline copyright issues in your organization.



3. Get a budget


As the copyright go-to person, you’ll find there are many things on which to spend money. You’ll need to purchase books and newsletters about copyright and place them on a reference shelf/Intranet page for you and your colleagues to consult. You’ll want some training in copyright law, and you may also want to train others with whom you work so they know the basics too.


You may need money to hire a copyright consultant or get assistance from your legal department (if you have one) to develop a copyright policy. The policy will guide copyright compliance matters in your organization and be a reference tool for you and your colleagues. You may also need a budget to consult with an external copyright lawyer on questions that you can’t answer.



4. Get educated


You don’t need to get a law degree to be the copyright go-to person; in fact, many librarians and other non-lawyers who work on copyright issues each day know more about managing copyright issues than do many lawyers (though likely not lawyers who specialize in copyright!). Locate books on copyright and licensing that are written for non-lawyers (several are available). Read websites and blogs (keep in mind that many of these have a particular perspective rather than provide straightforward copyright information). Take online and in-person courses to learn basic principles, upgrade your knowledge and stay on top of changes in the law.



5. Get help


To whom do you turn when you can’t answer a copyright question? Do you have a network of people you can contact for assistance, such as colleagues in similar positions? Does your organization have an attorney, either on staff or on retainer, who can advise you on copyright matters that are outside your comfort zone?


It’s important that you establish contacts with other copyright professionals. Build a support system by attending conferences and meeting others who work in copyright, networking with fellow students in copyright courses, and joining online copyright communities.



Now, get going!


Although you may never have intended to be the copyright person in your organization, you may find that the job offers much satisfaction. You’ll be a key player in helping people gain access to information, lowering your organization’s risk of copyright infringement, moving work forward, and eliminating the frustration and uncertainty that others confront when using content. Although you may often say “no” to requests and have to find creative ways to get to “yes,” your colleagues will soon appreciate your value in guiding them through the copyright maze.


The content of this article is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice; consult a lawyer should you need legal advice.