What else can be said about fair use?

Post by Carrie Russell, Director, Program on Public Access to Information, American Library Association

In honor of Fair Use Week 2015, and because I have been talking and writing about fair use for a long time, I thought I would tell you a couple of stories that I encountered on my fair use journey.

At one of my first presentations about copyright—it was1996 or 1997 at a state library conference—I went too far for the audience when I said that copyright was a statutory monopoly with limits like fair use.  One person raised his hand and told me I was a communist.  After responding to the accusation, I reminded myself not to use the word “monopoly” with certain crowds (especially in Maricopa County). And forget about talking about non-rival public goods.

Today no one balks if I say monopoly.  Monopoly – there, I said it.

Early on, I used to ask copyright workshop attendees if they ever heard of fair use.  Very few hands were raised.  Now everybody raises their hands, and many know the four factors of fair use (although they may not get them in the right order).

I used to get comments from librarians like “fair use is too hard,” “just give me the answer,” and “I don’t want to be the test case.”  What a bunch of whiners. How tiresome those days were.

Today, there is a growing cadre of copyright geeks among the library set. They ask me questions about obscure fair use cases I know nothing about. Alright, smarty pants. How tiresome some days are.

But the point is, more and more librarians understand the value of fair use and can apply it when more rigid exceptions are too limited. Librarians make excellent fair use determinations.  Because they prize and care for information, knowledge and creativity, they are thoughtful and deliberate.  And, in general, they are not communists.