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Month: May 2013

My glamorous life: copyright notices for copiers

Lately I’ve been involved in the glamorous side of helping to run a library: negotiating about trash pickup and posting copyright notices. I’m pretty sure nobody wants to hear about trash, but I did learn something odd about those copyright notices that section 108 requires libraries to post near copiers. Turns out? There’s no standard wording for them. The notices I’d seen were so legalistic that I figured they must have that wording required by law, but no. So if you got here by asking Google what those notices should say, the answer is apparently “whatever you want.”

Since I’m not really a fan of notices, I originally went pretty minimalist and educational with my proposal for our library, basically pointing people toward our copyright website. But in the end, here’s the compromise we arrived at:

copyright notice
Licensed under CC0. Do what you like with it!

The actual printed signs didn’t turn out quite right because of quirks of our printing services (somebody decided it needed an inch-wide frame of black? Because copyright isn’t associated enough with doom and gloom?) but since I’m not really a fan of notices I hung them anyway rather than demanding a do-over.


USE-MAN! Copyright Basics for Academic Contexts

[A couple months ago I was asked to give a very brief overview of the use of copyrighted materials in teaching and research. The audience was faculty, staff, and students interested in the digital humanities, and I was the first in a panel of presenters who later covered finding reusable works and ownership of your own copyrighted material, work for hire, and student ownership of their own creative work. The day was a very informal one, replete with interruptions and digressions, but here is the gist.]

You, the cheerfully yellow user of information, are on a quest. You want to use somebody else’s work in the course of your teaching and research. You are Use-Man.*


Bad GuysThis sounds relatively straightforward, but just as you get started, out pop the Bad Guys. These eager lawyers at the Association of American Publishers, the Recording Industry Association of America, the Author’s Guild, the Motion Picture Association of America and their ilk are charged with thwarting you at every turn. Their jobs are to help their associations make money, which means that they don’t want anyone copying their materials and (heaven forbid) make it so anyone could get at any of it without paying for the privilege.

Power UpsAs you’re trying not to fall prey to the wily and over-protective lawyers, there are some power-ups along the way that can offer protection. These power-ups come in the form of your own growing knowledge of landmark court cases in which the high courts have told those Bad Guys to back off. The recent HathiTrust case, for example, provides a useful (and expansive) definition of transformative use that will give many a digital humanist a new lease on life.** The Google Books Settlement? Much of that was left kind of murky, but it is still a case that any digital humanist working with digitized text should know about. And if you’re interested in thumbnail images and deep linking, Perfect 10 is your case.

Ready to get started?

Level One

Level one is both relatively straightforward and also utterly crucial. Is the work you want to use governed by a license agreement? As a hint, pretty much everything available digitally is licensed, and licenses trump copyright. Want to use that full-page scan of a Victorian-era plate in a book? Better make your own scan unless your use of the professional scan falls within the terms of their license agreement. Your own scan will be totally fine to do whatever you want with because the original is out of copyright. But the professional scan is almost certainly brought to you by a license agreement.

If the work you want to use is licensed, the Use-Man game is over. Follow the license agreement and all will be well.

If the work you want to use is not licensed, continue on to Level Two!

Level Two

In level two there are two ways to win! Either you find that the work you want to use is in the Public Domain or you find that your intended use of the work falls under Fair Use. In either case you’re in the clear. You win!

Note that Public Domain does NOT mean “generally available to the public.” It means that there are no copyright restrictions on the work.

Note also that the four factor test for Fair Use does not require that every factor come up strongly in favor of fair use as long as the four together, considered as a whole, favor fair use. As Aufderheide and Jaszi say, “A typical fair-use calculation today can be distilled into three questions:

  1. Was the use of copyrighted material for a different purpose, rather than just reuse for the original purpose and for the same audience? […]
  2. Was the amount of material taken appropriate to the purpose of the use?
  3. Was it reasonable within the field or discipline it was made in? […]” (Aufderheidi and Jaszi p. 24)
It’s all about context and appropriateness. Luckily for us, judging context and appropriateness is something that we all do all the time as scholars within our communities. So don’t be scared! And remember your fruity power-ups!

What happens if you don’t win the game of Use-Man? You can decide either to use different material for your work, or to ask for permission from the copyright holder. But Fair Use was built for exactly the kind of work that we do in our teaching and research, so know your rights, know that they are written into the law itself,*** and keep an eye out for power-ups!

Finally, you may have noticed that I never once said “as long as you cite your sources.” That’s because none of this has anything to do with the ethics and rhetoric of attribution. Copyright is about the legality of use; citation is about the ethical and rhetorical culture of use.

* And yes, I am relying heavily on the idea of transformative use here. No actual arcade game was harmed in the making of this talk.

** Digital archives of text meant to be searched are, apparently, fundamentally different from individual books meant to be read.

*** “The fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.” (Title 17, Section 107, emphasis mine)

Aufderheide, Patricia, and Peter Jaszi. 2011. Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put Balance Back in Copyright. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Information Literacy in a Utopian High School

About a month ago I got two separate emails from completely different people asking about what I think high school students should know about information literacy before coming to college. I, uh, procrastinated a bit. The question was just kind of daunting and got all wrapped up in all the normal thoughts people have about these things (“College students today, they just don’t understand even the BASICS!”) along with some worried thoughts I wasn’t expecting and don’t actually believe in (“If they know this stuff when they get to me, what will I do?”). Plus, we’re in the last few weeks of school here (yes, still) so I could procrastinate while being busy with student questions, which could even be a great excuse except that I know I was just putting it off.

Before I go any further, I should point out that not only have I never taught in a high school myself, I never even went to high school. So I’m certainly no expert in what gets taught there. My perspective is that of a librarian who spends the first 10 weeks of every school year teaching about a third of our first year seminar students. Also, these are ideas, not a curriculum. I’m just thinking out loud here, as usual. So with that said, what should high school students know before coming to college?

Habits of Mind

  1. A research paper is not (usually) a report. Very few reports get assigned in college. When faced with their first research projects here, students really really want to write what John Bean terms an “all about” paper — these tend to have “And then” as a standard transition and they basically summarize all known facts about a particular topic.
  2. Curiosity, and high comfort with the idea of finding out what people know about whatever you’re curious about. I have a browser open nearly all day every day, and I can’t tell you how many searches I do in a day — everything from checking on the spelling of a word (Google is my dictionary) or figuring out more about something I saw on TV or something I’ve read.
  3. Understanding that journalists, scholars, business people, etc don’t have their well-formed ideas drop on them from the sky. They do not utter Truth-with-a-capital-T. They offer perspective and (hopefully) support that perspective with some context/evidence/proof.  They, too, went through the messy process of figuring out what they even wanted to know about a given topic, and the uncertain phase of collecting and analyzing and rethinking and collecting some more. This is a really difficult lesson to learn, so the sooner you start thinking about it the better! And the better you know this, the easier it will be to engage with outside sources rather than simply report on them.
  4. Gather information, THEN write the paper. The other way around is just painful.
  5. Cite what you use. This is good for you (no plagiarism) and good for your reader (more context), and besides, you’ll be graded on it. This is a habit more than a skill because the individual rules for this citation style or that matter far less than the habit of bringing in and acknowledging the participants in the conversation that you’re having in the form of your research project.
  6. Talking to people (especially librarians or writing consultants or discipline experts) is not cheating. It’s the way knowledge creation happens. And since this isn’t a “report” getting information isn’t the whole point. You’ll still be able to think about and communicate about your analysis and synthesis and conclusions. Those journalists and scholars who didn’t have their ideas fall on them out of the sky? They talked to people, too.

Research skills

  1. I tend to expect students to have searched google. A lot. This is not always the case, but it’s the assumption upon which I build many of my classes and one-on-one instruction.
  2. Books are good, and knowing the parts of the book (table of contents, the amazing thing that is the index, the introduction, the conclusion) will help you get the most out of a shelf of books in extremely short order.
  3. Browsing is good. Search can only get you so far, particularly if you are a novice in the field (which is everyone in high school) and therefore don’t know the vocabulary that each field develops and uses to exchange ideas. I call this the Term Economy, and it’s what makes searches work or fail. If you haven’t paid much into that economy yet, browsing is even more your friend than it is for everyone else.
  4. Call numbers mean a topic. You don’t have to know what topic any given string means, but knowing that really helps with browsing.
  5. Find full text based on a citation. Only about 30% of our incoming students can do this and I would love it if all of them could.
  6. Keep track of what you find. Whether that means printing stuff out, saving it to something like Zotero or Evernote or whatever, it will stand you in really good stead.


  1. Word processing
  2. Basic proficiency with a browser
  3. Browser addons (so many library tools involve bookmarklets and browser addons)
  4. Citation generator? Zotero is great and useful in many many more ways that just producing citations. Straight up citation generators? I’m neither opposed to nor in favor of them. The only thing I really care about is whether the student knows enough about basic citations to be able to look at a citation and use it to find the text. THAT’s what’s important about citations. The rest is periods and commas.

I’m sure there are plenty of other things high school students do and should know before entering college, but these are the things that trip up my first year students either consistently or spectacularly.


Well THAT’S Inconvenient: Academic Ebooks Strike Again

A researcher here found a citation to a book she needs. There’s nothing else like it, it’s by a prominent critic about a VERY obscure author from the early decades of the 1800s, and it could contain the one nugget of information that she needs for a massive research project she’s undertaking. What if her conclusion completely match or completely contradict this other critics conclusions? She’ll look the fool.

So I looked high and low for a copy, but it turns out that the book is only available as one ebook in a package of ebooks. So that’s a bummer. Nobody will be allowed to interlibrary loan it to us, so now we’re left with the choice of either saying “sorry, that’s just something you can’t see unless you take a field trip to one of the (few) libraries that bought that package” or else buying a whole package of ebooks, which would make this one of the more expensive books in our collection.

Please tell me this isn’t the wave of the future. It breaks my poor librarian’s heart.