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 posts in the series here.

photo of Nena Couch

Nena Couch, Head of Special Collections

The Ohio State University Libraries are home to several special collections spanning a variety of subject areas. These collections contain many rare, primary source, and unique materials around a particular topic or area of study, and serve as a rich resource for education, research, and other projects. Special collections often contain objects beyond traditional publications, lending additional complexity to copyright questions regarding these materials. I met with Nena Couch, Head of Thompson Library Special Collections, and Beth Kattelman, Associate Professor and Curator of Theatre, to discuss the ways that copyright influences the Libraries’ special collections such as the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute (TRI).

Nena and Beth think about copyright issues on a regular basis in the course of their work with special collections and TRI. Patrons access the collections for research purposes, and often seek to include scans and photos of items from the collection in their publications and other projects (e.g. documentaries). Nena and Beth receive many requests from publishers and patrons seeking permission to use materials from our special collections; however, the Libraries are rarely the copyright owner for these materials. Nena and Beth provide information on the copyright status and current rights holders when possible, but cannot grant permissions requests when the Libraries are not the rights holder. The Libraries rely on Section 108 of the U.S. Copyright Law to provide copies to patrons for private study, and patrons are ultimately responsible for obtaining any necessary rights to use the materials going forward.

Determining the copyright status of works from special collections can be more complicated than for other materials in the Libraries.  Many items may be considered unpublished, and therefore subject to a different copyright duration than published materials. The matter is further complicated if the work is considered an “orphan” where authorship and/or date of creation is unknown or unclear. In cases where permission is required from a rights holder to move forward with an intended use, it can be difficult to track down the copyright owner or her heirs for such materials. TRI and other special collections at the OSU Libraries also contain many international works that are subject to the copyright laws of their source countries.

Photo of Beth Kattelman

Beth Kattelman,
Associate Professor and Curator of Theatre

As with other collections in the Libraries, Beth and Nena would like to make special collections accessible to the widest audience possible in order to increase opportunities for education and scholarship.  Nena and Beth partner with the Libraries’ Preservation and Reformatting department to digitize materials from special collections, and they make digitized collections available online when it is possible to do so in accordance with copyright law. For example, some digital collections are made up of public domain materials (such as TRI materials archived in the Knowledge Bank), while other materials are made available with permission from the copyright holder.   Exhibits featuring selected items from the TRI collection are another way that Beth and Nena showcase the collection and help patrons discover the materials in our special collections. The Libraries often rely on fair use to publicly display copyrighted materials as part of such exhibits.

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 posts in the series here.



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