Copyright touches many library services because we collect, share and loan original works fixed in a wide variety of tangible media. The Copyright Resources Center conducted a series of informational interviews with faculty and staff from various areas of The Ohio State University Libraries to discuss the ways in which they engage with copyright issues. This blog series documents those conversations, and highlights how copyright law helps to shape services provided by the Libraries. See all available posts in the series here.

Photo of Emily Shaw

Emily Shaw,
Head of Preservation & Reformatting

Preservation and reformatting at The OSU Libraries encompass a wide variety of activities, some of which are not as affected by copyright while others engage with copyright issues on a regular basis. Reformatting primarily means digitization, and preservation efforts include systematically preserving print collections by repairing damaged collections, binding journals and paperbacks, monitoring collection environments, and more. Emily Shaw is Head of the Preservation and Reformatting Department at The OSU Libraries, and she met with me to discuss the ways in which copyright affects her department.

Some preservation activities do not necessarily implicate copyright, but sometimes preserving an item means making a copy of a work that is damaged, deteriorating, or exists in an obsolete format. U.S. Copyright Law includes an exemption permitting libraries to produce a limited number of copies under specific conditions for the purpose of library preservation (17 U.S.C. §108).

Emily noted that reformatting generally equates to digitization nowadays, and all digitization activities require some form of copyright assessment to ensure that the digital copies produced do not infringe copyright. Copyright assessments may be fairly straightforward, such as checking publication dates to see if materials were published prior to 1923 and therefore in the public domain. More detailed research into the copyright status of particular works is referred to the Copyright Resources Center. In other cases, Emily’s team may determine that digitization is allowed under Section 108 for preservation purposes (as discussed above). Fair use may also apply to libraries’ digitization efforts; for example, the ARL Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries includes digitization for preservation purposes, the creation of digital collections of archival and special collections materials, and access for faculty, staff, and students with disabilities as potential fair uses.

Copyright considerations are embedded in the preservation and reformatting team’s project planning and established workflows so that copyright implications are discussed before commencing any digitization project. Faculty and staff who submit digitization proposals are required to meet with the Copyright Resources Center to review the copyright status of the proposed collection, and include this copyright assessment in their proposal. Proposals are reviewed by the Collection Reformatting Review Subcommittee for a variety of criteria, including copyright.

The copyright status of a work or a collection will affect what the Libraries can do with the materials after digitization. For instance, public domain materials can be made publicly available through the OSU Knowledge Bank, the Internet Archive, the HathiTrust, and elsewhere. Copyrighted materials may be restricted to local users unless fair use or another exception applies. Seeking permission from rights holders is frequently unfeasible due to large collection size or issues inherent to orphan works. The Libraries’ reformatting program prioritizes digitization of materials that support teaching and research at OSU, and digitization of collections that can be made publicly accessible online in order to maximize the impact and reach of the Libraries’ digitization efforts.

This blog has presented a snapshot of the impact copyright has on just one area of the Libraries. Copyright affects libraries and higher education in a multitude of ways, often with idiosyncrasies particular to various subjects and disciplines. Additional posts in this series explore other instances in which copyright affects library services and collections; you can see all available posts in the series here.



By Jessica Chan, Rights Management Specialist at the Copyright Resources Center, The Ohio State University Libraries