Suddenly, ordinary people can copy others' works with incredible ease, become publishers, and use others' works as the basis for new works, incorporating things here and there. These potential creators and publishers work for or attend our universities so we and they need to understand copyright law. But, if copyright law was hard to understand in the print environment, it now borders on inscrutable because we must identify copyright issues, apply 200 year old law to cutting edge technologies and create guidelines that real people will follow. No small order.
Eventually, these problems will recede into the background once again, because intellectual property and information are becoming much too important to leave in limbo. They are staples of industry, and industry needs more certainty to do business online than academia has been willing to tolerate. Between now and then, however, there is much work to be done to deal with the ambiguities as business models collapse and legal principles crumble.
Institutional copyright to-do list
Understand the issues
Why do we have to care about copyright?
Who owns what?
Rules for using others' works (copyright compliance)
Guiding users about fair use
Licensing rights when we need them
Implement a comprehensive copyright policy
Provide needed guidance for faculty, students, and staff
Clarify ownership issues
Explain fair use and other educational exemptions
Develop strategies to accommodate (for now) and reduce (for future) our need for permission
Transactional and subscription licensing
Acquiring electronic access that covers predictable user needs
Assessing the university's role in scholarly communication
Retaining and taking advantage of rights to publicly archive scholarly works
Taking a more active role in the management of scholarly communication
Supporting open access to research results and data
It is important to work from a comprehensive copyright management policy, one that not only addresses use of others' works involving licensing, fair use and performance rights, but also addresses questions of ownership and copyright management so that we take care to protect and exploit that which we help to create. Failure to take action can result in catastrophic liability. A thoughtful policy that is widely disseminated will go a long way towards establishing the good faith requisite to the most effective defenses available to universities under copyright law.