Copyright and our users

We all know that our users don’t really care all that much about copyright. If they did, they wouldn’t be ripping CDs and DVDs or illegally downloading a wide variety of content in a wide variety of formats from the Internet.

We know it happens, but apart from the producers of such content and formats, libraries are amongst the last bastions of copyright protection.

photomastergreg, Uploaded on August 17, 2009 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

photomastergreg, Uploaded on August 17, 2009 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

So I don’t know why I was suprised at the response of one of our users to – what to them anyway, seemed like a straightforward request.

She had been told of a small publication which covered a local history topic in which she was interested. She had contacted the small history group holding the publication and somewhere communication got crossed and she ended up on our doorpost, wanting to get a copy through our library.

Several problems with that request: it was an interstate publication, there was only one library who had holdings and it was not available for inter-library loan, being more pamphlet sized than book.

So user, understandably in a way, wanted it now and expected that it would be delivered soonest.  That’s where the problem started.  She wanted it now, so was expecting that we could just get an email copy and hand it over to her in minutes. Up popped copyright considerations. We couldn’t do that – it was in breach of copyright. But we couldn’t find a way to explain copyright and the implicaitons to her in a way that she either cared about or understood.

In the end, we helped her get her own email address and she contacted the library herself, to see what they could do for her directly.

So how do you explain to someone that doesn’t understand, that the thing they want is not on the internet and can’t be just scanned and sent without legal obligations being filled. Especially when for many things, they can just go on the internet and download it?

How can we explain them in ways that they can understand, that copyright is important and that everyone’s intellectual property needs to be protected in the way the creator wants?

Creative Commons - Some Right Reserved - Algunos Derechos Reservados

Creative Commons - Some Right Reserved - Algunos Derechos Reservados

Or instead of trying to explain copyright, do we instead get everything licenced under a Creative Commons attribution and save everyone a lot of time and grief.  I have used Creative Commons images here and am doing so in my presentations. If you don’t know what it is, I strongly suggest you check it out!

Would love to hear your stories, your solutions and your thoughts about copyright and your users, I can’t be the only one having these experiences.


  1. I can understand the library user being frustrated with this scenario. Presumably the booklet was not available for sale anywhere. She couldn’t view it without travelling interstate. In this age perhaps we need to be able to do better in this sort of situation. On the other hand, I recognise there was nothing you could do.

    Perhaps the ideal scenario in this situation is for the “lending” library to be able to post a copy protected image of the booklet online.

    Of course, that presumes they have the right to do so.

    • morgan on March 16, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    This is something that’s been troubling me a lot lately. The problem extends to different sorts of libraries, including law libraries. It’s surprising that it’s an issue here. You would think that lawyers would know (or at least appreciate) copyright law more than your average person, but I’ve come across some astounding abuse of IP in law firms: things like photocopying and scanning entire books. Maybe one reason is that there are some various exceptions to copyright law in relation to litigation, and they tend to think that this applies to all of their work.

  2. Sometimes makes you wonder why we uphold it, in situations like the one I outlined, when those who should know how it works and abide by it, don’t.

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