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Copyright & IP

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Updating copyright and intellectual property laws to meet the challenges of the networked environment has been a key focus for Congress, the courts, and state legislatures for many years.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, peer-to-peer file sharing and digital rights management, legislation to create additional protections for databases, the Stop Online Piracy Act, the Protect IP Act, orphan works, and more have dominated the agenda.

In addition, ARL, working with the Center for Social Media at American University and the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property in American University’s Washington College of Law, prepared a Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries.

Below are links to information and resources on key topics in copyright and intellectual property.

Fair Use

Fair use, or Section 107 of the Copyright Act, allows reproduction and other uses of copyrighted works for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. The statute sets forth four factors to be considered in determining whether a use is fair: the character of the use, the nature of the work, the amount used in proportion to the whole, and the impact on the market for the work. The four factors provide libraries and users alike with needed flexibility. For libraries, educational institutions, and the public, the Fair Use Doctrine is the most important limitation on the rights of the copyright owner—the "safety valve" of U.S. copyright law.


Author Rights

Copyright was designed to serve the public interest by encouraging the advancement of knowledge while safeguarding the rights of authors and copyright owners. Balancing the needs and rights of creators, publishers, and users is difficult in the digital environment. Research libraries are particularly concerned about the impact of copyright management practices on scholarly communication and the dissemination of information. ARL has joined with others in the higher education and research communities to promote barrier-free access to information while exploring ways to protect authors’ rights to their intellectual property.



ARL, with others in the library, higher education and technology communities, actively engage on numerous copyright and IP issues. Legislation regarding first sale, updating Section 108 of the Copyright Act, orphan works, digital rights management, database, and more are the focus of this activity.



ARL, as a member of the Library Copyright Alliance, engages on a number of international copyright and intellectual property issues. LCA focuses on several World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties, Trans-Pacific Partnerships, Free Trade Area of the Americas, and more. In addition, ARL monitors Canadian copyright issues via the activities of the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL).


Copyright Timeline: A History of Copyright in the United States

This timeline was written and compiled by ARL staff. The timeline is a work-in-progress and will be continually updated. The authors would like to thank Stanley Katz, Director, Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, for reading and offering valuable advice on this timeline.






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