(#18) Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

We began last month exploring why copyright plays in important role in scholarly communication by looking at one case – publishing.  Copyright also plays important roles in other ways that scholars do their work.  As Clifford Lynch has said, “The most fundamental part of research, teaching, and scholarly discourse is the ability to build upon both evidence and prior scholarship.” (Center for Intellectual Property Handbook, p. 154) This building upon requires both access to the material as well as the ability to use portions of it to build your own case, make an argument against it, or to perhaps to establish a common understanding within your field.  This ability to use other works is not just important; it is, to use Cliff’s word, fundamental.

Many of the questions that I receive are about the use of others’ copyrighted work.  Can I include this image in my paper?  Can I show this film clip in my class?  Many of these questions rely on those limitations I also touched upon last time.  To recap: Section 106 of the copyright law goes about defining the exclusive rights of authors and creators.  Sections 107 through 122 are about setting limits on those exclusive rights.  These are not exceptions to copyright law.  These are statute defined limitations on the exclusive rights of the author.  I believe this is a very important distinction as exceptions are generally thought of as a thing to be gotten rid of, but defined limitations has a very different connotation.

Scholars rely on many of these limitations in order to do their work.  The most frequently used sections of the copyright law in higher education are Sections 107 (the fair use section), Section 108 (specifically for libraries and archives), and Section 110 (deals with teaching).  These are not the only parts of the law that scholars rely on, but probably the most heavily used.  More on each of these in future posts.  For now, let’s just think about how important it is to have the ability to build upon the scholarship of others, teach about developments in a field, or to freely read about these areas of our choosing.