Intellectual Freedom and Copyright

Finding answers to legal questions: an interview with Virginia M. Tucker and Marc Lampson

More people than ever are using the library to obtain legal information and legal research advice, and library staff need to be able to serve these users efficiently and confidently. Veteran law librarians Virginia M. Tucker and Marc Lampson just published an update of Finding the Answers to Legal Questions, their benchmark text. We caught up with them to hear their perspective on what's new in the field and to get some handy reference tips.

About seven years elapsed between the first edition and this new second edition. When it comes to legal information, what do you think have been the biggest changes in the landscape?

It appears to us that all law libraries - academic, government, public - continue to cut back on subscriptions to hard copy resources, so people with limited resources for paid, online research are left more and more out of the information cycle, at least for value-added secondary sources. On the other hand, "free" online sources from the federal and state governments have continued to improve in terms of availability, timeliness, reliability, and to some extent, searchability.

In many ways, a legal reference interview can be one of the trickiest interactions library staff can face. Can you offer some tips that staff can use up front to smooth the way for a successful encounter?

Often people think they have a legal problem, in part resolvable by finding the law, when in fact they don't have a problem for which the law can provide a remedy. Conversely, people often do not recognize that at example of an internet search reult for legal resourcesthe root of a life problem is a legal problem. We think this is particularly true in health care sorts of problems. So the first and perhaps trickiest question is to try to verify that the problem the patron is presenting you with is in fact one that can be researched in the law. Once that question is answered, the sailing should be smoother.

In your book, you make it a point to differentiate legal advice from legal information. Why?

The book is directed, at least in part, to librarians or students soon to be librarians. Traditionally, librarians have been prohibited from providing legal advice. A librarian can lead a patron to the source, but not interpret or advise on how to use that source. Therefore, when helping someone with a legal question, a librarian has to keep in mind the distinction between advice and information. Often, the line is clear. Sometimes, it is not.

Marc Lampson: My position as the Public Services Attorney at a public law library was designed to overcome this conundrum because as both lawyer and librarian I could help people not only find the law but work with them, for instance, in finding appropriate documents or forms and filling them out and telling them how to proceed.

Sometimes library staff will realize during an interview that the patron is going to need assistance that’s beyond the purview of the library, such as finding a lawyer or free legal help. What advice can you offer about connecting a patron to these resources? And how can libraries familiarize themselves with the organizations that exist in their communities?

The safest, surest path is to find out if your county has a bar association. County bar associations, at least in more populated areas, will frequently provide free legal clinics for people and will also provide lawyer referrals. These referrals are fairly reliable because they are not motivated by the organization's profit motive, of which there usually isn't one, because these organizations are usually nonprofits. If the county does not have a robust bar association, the next possibility is the state bar association. There will be one in every state. These will not always have lawyer referral services, but will often have searchable lists of active attorneys, sometimes book cover for inding the Answers to Legal Questions, Second Editionsearchable by legal specialty or legal focus of the attorney or firm. A library can familiarize themselves with these organizations through good online searching, but also a number of the legal services organizations in the community may list various agencies in the area that can provide legal assistance. These organization often maintain a website with "Law Help" in the name, often preceded by the name of the state, e.g., Washington Law Help, or just to be contrary Law Help California. If you cannot locate one of these sites for your state quickly and easily, you can track one down by going to Pro Bono Net..

What are some ways librarians can keep up to date with changes in legal information and sources?

Other librarians, always. And any law library/librarian organizations, local and national. Join them. For example, in Marc's area there is the Law Librarians of Puget Sound (LLOPS). Nationally, the "big one" is the American Association of Law Libraries. A "standard" in the field is the Legal Information Buyer's Guide & Reference Manual by Kendall F. Svengalis, available at

Learn more at the ALA Store.

Books hot off the press, Meet the Authors at the ALA Store in Orlando

Located just inside the Shuttle Bus Entrance at the Orange County Convention Center, the ALA Store offers products that meet the widest range of your promotional and continuing education/professional development needs—as well as fun gift items. Make sure to carve out some time in your schedule during the conference to stop by and examine the many new and bestselling items available!

ALA Store hours:

  • Friday, June 24            12:00 pm – 5:30 pm
  • Saturday, June 25       8:30 am – 5:00 pm
  • Sunday, June 26          8:30 am – 5:00 pm
  • Monday, June 27        9:00 am – 2:00 pm

ALA Graphics will feature a selection of popular posters, bookmarks, and promotional materials, including new 2016 Teen Read Week and Banned Book Week items. And stop by early to get your pick of conference t-shirts—they sell out fast! We’ll also be introducing several brand new items and exclusive gifts:

  • Libraries Transform Expert Badges
  • CSK Book Award T-shirts
  • CSK Book Award Pashmina (limited quantity and only available at the Conference Store)

ALA Editions and ALA divisions are excited to offer several new titles hot off the press, such as “RDA Essentials,” by Thomas Brenndorfer; “Engaging Babies in the Library: Putting Theory into Practice,” by Debra J. Knoll; and “The Librarian's Nitty Gritty Guide to Content Marketing,” by Laura Solomon. Come by the ALA Store for these special Meet the Author events:

Saturday, June 25      

Sunday, June 26      

Remember that you can now find titles from ALA Neal-Schuman and Facet Publishing in the ALA Store. You can also get free shipping on all book orders placed in the ALA Store (posters, bookmarks, and other gift-type items are not eligible for this offer).

Stop by the ALA Store to learn more about our eLearning opportunities. You can also arrange for a live demo of RDA Toolkit—just contact us by June 20 to request an appointment.

Prices at the ALA Store automatically reflect the ALA Member discount, so there’s no need to dig out your Member number. And remember that every dollar you spend at the ALA Store helps support library advocacy, awareness, and other key programs and initiatives!

Continuing the Conversation: Libraries, Copyright and the World

We just wrapped up the most recent workshop in our Crews on Copyright series with Kenny Crews. Today’s workshop was Open Access and Your Publications: What's Copyright Got to Do with It?. The slides from the event, which contain some fantastic resources, are posted below.

Continuing the Conversation: Open Access and Your Publications: What's Copyright Got to Do with It?

We just wrapped up the most recent workshop in our Crews on Copyright series with Kenny Crews. Today’s workshop was Open Access and Your Publications: What's Copyright Got to Do with It?. The slides from the event, which contain some fantastic resources, are posted below.

Continuing the Conversation: E-Reserves and Fair Use

Untitled Document

We just wrapped up the first workshop in our new series Crews on Copyright with Kenny Crews. Today’s workshop was on E-Reserves and Fair Use. The slides from the event, which contain some fantastic resources, are posted below.

If you’d like to attend the next session, Open Access and Your Publications: What's Copyright Got to Do with It?, please visit the ALA Store to register.

New from ALA Editions: Complete Copyright for K–12 Librarians and Educators by Carrie Russell

ALA Editions is proud to publish Complete Copyright for K–12 Librarians and Educators by Carrie Russell of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy, with illustrations by Jessica Abel.  Here Abel offers some comments on her working process and what goes in to illustrating the ins and outs of copyright issues! 


I’m a cartoonist and a comics educator. But sometimes, I’m also an illustrator. It was in that capacity that, back in—what was it, 2005? I got a call from a design agency called Design Farm to work on a book about copyright law aimed at librarians (Complete Copyright: An Everyday Guide For Librarians). They wanted to use my skills as a cartoonist to develop a set of characters who would be able to act out various challenging scenarios familiar to librarians in a way that was both fun and clear.


I’d long had dealings with great comics-friendly librarians (especially via my comics intro to the idea of graphic novels “What is a Graphic Novel?”), so I knew it was the right approach to take.

It was a great project!  The design director, Jodi Bloom, and especially the writer, Carrie Russell, were fantastic creative partners: always interested in what I had to offer, flexible, and fun. And it was a great bonus for me as a cartoonist, and thus a creator of lots of copyrighted content, to get the chance to understand copyright a bit better myself.



Fast forward to 2008, and I got another call from Carrie, now working on a second volume of this series, aimed at school librarians.

I signed up immediately, and since in this case there is no design firm involved, I was able to have a bit more say in how the illustrations would work. Consistent with my background as a narrative cartoonist, I suggested that the characters not simply appear randomly to illustrate one concept or another, but that the book as a whole have a kind of storyline to it. 



Well, it’s loose, but there is a story, and that made the project very satisfying. It’s a silly little tale of Goofus and Gallant-like librarians struggling with copyright issues in their daily routine, but even so, I got to really have a soft spot for that uptight Lindsey Eagan...


And Carrie, if you're reading this, I'm all geared up for volume 3!

Here’s the fronticepiece of the book in development: it’s a bit more complex than most of the drawings, so there is more prep that goes into it, but the basic idea is the same throughout. 






True Stories of Censorship Battles in America's Libraries: Interview with Valerie Nye and Kathy Barco

ALA Editions recently announced the publication of True Stories of Censorship Battles in America's Libraries, a collection edited by Valerie Nye and Kathy Barco. Intellectual freedom is a core value of librarianship, but fighting to keep controversial materials on the shelves can sometimes feel like a lonely battle. And not all censorship controversies involve the public objecting to a book in the collection—libraries are venues for displays and meetings, and sometimes library staff themselves are tempted to preemptively censor a work.

We were thrilled to see that The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression named this important work their Book of the Month. Their site features this fantastic interview with Barco and Nye. We encourage all of our readers to check it out!

Demystifying Copyright: How to Educate Your Staff and Community

Lesley Ellen Harris will be teaching the ALA Editions eCourse Demystifying Copyright: How to Educate Your Staff and Community beginning on September 12th. You can learn more about the course and register for it at the ALA Store.

In July 2011, in one of her first interviews upon becoming the U.S. Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante was asked by Nate Anderson from ARS Technica if the extra attention caused by increased public interest in copyright had complicated life in the U.S. Copyright Office. Pallante’s response:

“I'm thrilled that more people care about copyright. I graduated from law school in 1990 and copyright was kind of a growing field then—environmental law was also newly hot—and it's only gotten bigger and better since. I do look at it sometimes with amusement; the field I obviously fell in love with right off the bat has gained so much attention.

            But I think it's great that the public is interested. It presents a lot of challenges but a lot of opportunities. I would like to see people respect copyright, I would like to see them know how copyright works, what it means for them in their daily lives.

            It's one of those life skills now, right? When you graduate from high school or college, you should know how to read a map, you should know how to use GPS, you should know a little bit about copyright. If you are somebody who is going to be in a field where you will encounter copyrighted materials all the time, you should know more. If you're going to be an artist or musician and you're getting a red-hot degree in the performing arts, you should know a lot. And I don't think that's quite the case—I don't think it's been built into curricula.”

What is Copyright Education and Why is it Important to you?

Libraries in organizations of all sizes are increasingly responsible for obtaining copyright permissions and providing information about copyright law. An increasing role of libraries as “copyright administrators” is to educate various internal people and departments and sometimes the public too about the basics of copyright laws, compliance with copyright guidelines, and respecting terms and conditions in license agreements.

Librarians who want to be perceived as the YES person for obtaining access to use content must be able to educate their community on copyright and licensing. Yet there is no exact definition of the concept of copyright education.  First, it is important that the copyright education be framed according to the needs of and in the context of your own enterprise. You will then need to be creative in developing and instituting an enterprise-wide education program. Your goals will be to increase the comfort level of staff in applying copyright in day-to-day situations, to lower the risk of employees infringing copyright law, and to lower potential or actual costs relating to copyright infringement.

Information about copyright law should come from a variety of sources from print and online information to discussion groups and seminars, courses and workshops. An online course beginning September 12, 2011 covers the following topics:

  • Understanding the risks of copyright infringement and how to protect your library from lawsuits
  • Understanding the need for copyright compliance nationally and globally
  • Evaluating copyright issues in your library
  • Developing a copyright education plan
  • Assessing materials, content and technology in order to equip an instruction team for your institution
  • Keeping your educational program up to date

Taking an active role in copyright education in your library is a giant step towards copyright compliance and management.

“Demystifying Copyright: How to Educate Your Staff and Your Community” offered by ALA Editions and taught by Lesley Ellen Harris (, a copyright, licensing and digital property lawyer. Online content will be presented over a four-week period with opportunities to post to online discussion boards, complete weekly assignments and activities and discuss your individual questions.

For more information regarding online learning, see

Your advice for on-line learners? By Joshua Kim     

Misconceptions about Licensing Electronic Content and E-Rights

This article was originally posted at Lesley Ellen Harris' blog

With the relative newness of digital licensing and the growing opportunities for licensing electronic content (including on social networking sites), there are a number of misconceptions already developing. By discussing and clearing up these misconceptions, it will help clear the path to an easier negotiating road and to better licenses.

Misconception #1: Not all licenses are negotiable. Almost every licence is negotiable, but often you have to ask the other side if they are willing to negotiate so that you will have a licence that meets your needs. Always remember to only accept a licence and arrangement that works for you in your particular circumstances.

Misconception #2: Licenses must be in “heretherewithto” language. It is best for everyone to use plain English in your licenses and not technical or legal language. Say what you mean and put that in writing. If the language is unclear, ask the other side what things mean. Define terms in the licence that are unclear.

Misconception #3: I need a lawyer. Often content owners and users know more about digital licensing than lawyers. Do not be intimidated by not having continuous access to a lawyer. Do your homework and ask questions so you are comfortable with the arrangement into which you are entering.

Misconception #4: Renegotiating every year is mandatory. Nothing is mandatory! Negotiating is time-consuming and costly. At the same time, technology is changing rapidly and so is the way we all use digital content. Lengthy durations for licence agreements may not be appropriate, so consider an automatic renewal clause, provided that both parties are satisfied with how the licence is working out for them and provided each side has an opportunity to positively opt-in to the renewal.

Misconception #5: You can control your users. The licence agreement you sign is between you and either an owner or user of content. Your licence only contractually obligates you and that owner or user. As such, you cannot agree, or expect the other party, to police subsequent users of that content. However, you may wish to educate staff and researchers about legally using licensed content, and obligate any user licensing your content to do the same.

Misconception #6: You may restrict fair use or fair dealing. Parties to a licence may agree to limit fair use or fair dealing between the parties subject to the agreement. However, any other persons are not bound by that agreement. These persons may apply the relevant copyright law to their use, which means that fair use or fair dealing, would apply to that licensed content.

Misconception #7: Standard licenses are the answer. Each situation is unique. Although model or standard licenses may seem like the answer to avoid costly and time-draining negotiations, you must always look at your own particular situation and find an arrangement that is suitable to your needs.

Misconception #8: One side always loses in negotiations. In the ideal world, negotiations should be “win-win.” In other words, both parties should be satisfied with the end result. This, of course, is not always possible. By being prepared before entering into negotiations and by understanding your needs as well as the needs of the other party, you will be taking the right steps to finding an agreement satisfactory to both sides.

Resources on licensing:

The Copyright & New Media Law Newsletter regularly carries articles on licensing.

Licensing Digital Content, A Practical Guide for Librarians, 2nd ed.

A Canadian Museum’s Guide to Developing a Digital Licensing Agreement Strategy, 2nd ed published May 2011.

Self-study online courses on licensing offered by the American Library Association (ALA)

Checklist – 18 Things to Do to Manage Copyright Laws in 2011

Originally posted at Lesley Ellen Harris' Website,

The year end is often a time to review finances, clean off desks, and get organized for the new year.  Below is a list of actions to get your copyright matters in order.

Permissions and Licenses

1. Check all licenses for electronic content to determine if any expire at the end of 2010.  Do you want to renew expiring licenses or allow them to expire?  Do you need to take any action to notify the vendor/content owner of your intention to renew or not renew a license?

2. Prepare a database of all content your organization has licensed. Whether it’s an image to use on a promotional brochure, or content from a large electronic database, include all content in a single searchable database that allows you to quickly and easily locate that content and determine what rights you have in it.

3. Generally, the duration of copyright expires at the end of each calendar year.  Determine if any of the works you want to use will be in the public domain in 2011. Review one list of works entering into the public domain on 1 January 2011.

4. Develop the “ultimate” list on what your organization needs from its license agreements. Do you need remote access or the right to share a PDF file? Do you need to make print-outs, or post articles to your intranet? What about using portions of the database for internal education/ seminars? Use the list as a set of goals in your future negotiations for licenses.


5. Consider your 2011 budget for permissions, licenses and copyright training.  Consult various people in your organization to gather their needs and preferences.  Prepare a draft budget and ensure you have the funds you need to meet your copyright needs in 2011.

Education and Training

6. Brainstorm ideas to get the copyright message to your colleagues.  How about a weekly lunchtime discussion group on copyright issues? Include senior management, marketing and information professionals, and lawyers.  Aim for a diverse group of speakers from authors to photographers to web designers to librarians.  The discussions can help “sensitize” your colleagues about copyright rather than being a lecture style format.

7. Continue your own copyright education.  Do you need a refresher course on copyright?  Or perhaps a course on international copyright or web 2.0 copyright issues?  See what in-person or online courses are being offered.

Management and Compliance

8. Develop a written copyright policy. If you do not already have one, first determine why you need one and how you would use it. If you have one, determine whether it is valuable, how you can improve or update it.

9. Do the same copyright questions arise again and again in your organization? Year end is a good time to compile these questions and prepare short practical answers.  Circulating these Qs & As to your colleagues or posting them on an intranet may help your organization better comply with copyright.

Copyright News and Information

10. Review copyright legislation in 2010 as well as court cases.  Are there any legislative amendments to your country’s Copyright Act that affect you?  Any court cases that interpret the copyright law that relate to your uses of copyright materials?

11. Try to better understand fair use/dealing. Is fair use/dealing narrow or broad? What research is covered by fair use? Create your own checklist to determine what may constitute fair use/dealing in your organization.

12. Create a list of favorite sites and books on copyright so that when you have a copyright issue in 2011, you can quickly consult reliable, helpful sources.

13. Investigate how best to follow copyright issues in 2011.  Sign up for a RSS feed?  Follow someone on Twitter?  (Try Copyrightlaws @ Twitter)  Participate on a discussion list?  There are free and subscription newsletters that may provide timely and relevant news.

Copyright Symbol and Protection

14. Review how you are protecting your own copyright works from documents to images to podcasts and videos.  Although voluntary in most countries, using the universal copyright symbol© is a reminder that copyright exists in a work.  Including contact information for permissions will direct people when obtaining copyright permissions.

15. Copyright registration is voluntary in most countries but consider registering your works with your country’s copyright office.  Rather than registering individual works, register a group or collection of works produced during the year to save time and registration fees.  Registration is important if you are distributing your works to the public and may need to enforce your rights through legal action.

16. Review your agreements with consultants. Who retains copyright ownership in consulting reports? If your organization does, make sure that this is clearly stated in your agreement and if necessary provide for an assignment of this work to your organization. If the consultant owns his works, take a look at the rights your organization has in any of the consultant’s work. If you are a consultant, review what rights you have in your own works.

17. Undergo an intellectual property or IP audit. It’s a great way to make sure all the content and computer software you are using is legal, and a great way to find out what IP you own, and how to market and better profit from that IP. This is true for individuals, small and large organizations.

18. Set up a mechanism for monitoring the legal use of your own online content on an international basis. This can be as simple as doing search engine searches, or you could hire a professional who specializes in finding unauthorized uses of content.  Piracy is not only the domain of the software and entertainment industries.  You may find surprises in how your individual or organization’s rights are being exploited, and your works used and perhaps even sold without your permission.

Click for permission to freely post this checklist on your blog, intranet or website.

Syndicate content