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ARL Releases Report On “Fair Use Challenges in Academic and Research Libraries”

Last Updated on May 11, 2020, 1:00 pm ET

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is pleased to announce the release of Fair Use Challenges in Academic and Research Libraries, a report that summarizes research into the current application of fair use and other copyright exemptions to meet the missions of U.S. academic and research libraries.

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The research was conducted in partnership with the Center for Social Media and the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property at American University. In dozens of interviews with veteran research and academic librarians, the researchers learned how copyright law comes into play as interviewees performed core library functions, including:

  • Facilitating student access to learning materials on e-reserves and course websites
  • Providing scholars access to research materials, whether by digitizing existing collections or by providing physical access to special collections and archives
  • Preserving research materials for future scholars and the public, and creating useable copies of frail materials for contemporary use
  • Exhibiting material from collections, whether online or in physical space
  • Making library materials accessible for the disabled

The interviews revealed that fair use is an essential component of copyright exemptions for libraries as they engage in these activities. Some librarians had arrived at a view of fair use that helped them balance library mission and copyright law with confidence, but many had not. While actual practices vary widely, many research and academic librarians faced these common problems:

  • Failure to take full advantage of fair use and other copyright limitations and exceptions
  • Perception of unnecessary conflict between their firm commitment to library mission and their conscientious respect for copyright law

In addition to greater institutional support and a clearer knowledge of other copyright limitations and exceptions, academic and research librarians would benefit significantly from developing a consensus around a code of best practice in fair use tailored to the needs of their field. Other communities of practice, such as documentary filmmakers and media literacy teachers, have done this, and their fields have benefited.

“Fair Use Challenges in Academic and Research Libraries” is part of a three-stage project funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with the ultimate goal of developing and promoting a code of best practices in fair use for research libraries.

Download the full report here.