[Excerpt from a white paper prepared by Elizabeth Hadzima, Alexandra Wood, Lila Bailey, and Jennifer Urban]
This briefing paper describes how the flexibility of the fair use doctrine in United States (U.S.) copyright law helps U.S. libraries fulfill their missions and offers suggestions for how flexible limitations and exceptions, when used in conjunction with purpose-specific exceptions or other approaches, might similarly benefit libraries outside of the United States. The experience of U.S. libraries may be beneficial in understanding the valuable role that flexibility can play in creating robust copyright frameworks that can assist libraries in performing their vital public responsibilities. Increasing libraries’ capacity to perform their key activities allows the public to realize its investment in libraries and also benefits society as a whole.
Because libraries gather, store, exhibit, and provide access to resources and information, copyright law affects librarians’ work extensively and in complex ways. In conducting their work, librarians may use purpose-specific exceptions, which define specific carve-outs for certain uses of copyrighted materials, or a combination of purpose-specific exceptions along with flexible limitations, depending on the jurisdiction.
This paper first describes the experience of U.S. libraries in applying flexible limitations, specifically fair use, under U.S. copyright law. This paper’s focus on the importance of fair use to U.S. libraries should not be interpreted as suggesting that the other, more purpose-specific exceptions in the U.S. Copyright Act are not important to libraries. Rather, this paper aims to illustrate how flexibility can complement purpose-specific exceptions to help libraries fulfill their missions by allowing them to perform their key functions, adapt quickly to changing circumstances such as new technologies, and provide the public with greater access to information.
The paper also suggests that the benefits conferred on the public by providing libraries with flexible limitations and exceptions are not limited to the experience of U.S. libraries. The paper concludes that communities around the world stand to benefit from incorporating into their copyright laws flexible limitations and exceptions, of which fair use is but one example, alongside purpose-specific exceptions.