Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) has just released the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries. The Code of Best Practices is intended to work as a clear and easy-to-use statement of fair and reasonable approaches to fair use developed by and for librarians who support academic inquiry and higher education.

What are these Best Practices codes about?

Best Practice statements such as this have been developed over the past decade in relation to classroom teaching, documentary filmmaking, online video, open courseware, media and communications studies, librarianship, poetry, and more. In general, Best Practices statements seek to identify points of strong and general agreement within user  communities  about what circumstances exist in which the unauthorized use of copyrighted material is crucial to the fulfillment of that community’s shared artistic or informational mission.

What does a Code of Best Practice Achieve? 

Best Practices are not a form of legal guarantee, but they are an important way for various  communities to educate themselves, bring together disparate sources of information, and state a common position. They also enable these communities to educate important third party stakeholders.

For example, following the development of the Documentary Filmmakers Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use in November 2005, every U.S. insurer that provides coverage against “errors and omissions” was willing to offer coverage for films that followed the Best Practices, which in turn, meant that films that had not been able to obtain copyright clearance but relied on fair use were able to be picked up for theatrical showing, DVD distribution, and television broadcasting – something that was not possible before the Best Practices.  There is ample evidence that filmmakers rely both extensively and successfully on own Statement of Best Practices, and the same is true of other creative communities that have created such documents for their own collective use.

What does the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries do?

I have not read it yet, but taking its authors at their word, the Code deals with such common questions in higher education as:

  • When and how much copyrighted material can be digitized for student use? And should video be treated the same way as print?
  • How can libraries’ special collections be made available online?
  • Can libraries archive websites for the use of future students and scholars?

The Code identifies the relevance of fair use in eight recurrent situations for librarians:

Supporting teaching and learning with access to library materials via digital technologies
Using selections from collection materials to publicize a library’s activities, or to create physical and virtual exhibitions

  • Digitizing to preserve at-risk items
  • Creating digital collections of archival and special collections materials
  • Reproducing material for use by disabled students, faculty, staff, and other appropriate users
  • Maintaining the integrity of works deposited in institutional repositories
  • Creating databases to facilitate non-consumptive research uses (including search)
  • Collecting material posted on the web and making it available
  • In the Code, librarians affirm that fair use is available in each of these contexts, providing helpful guidance about the scope of best practice in each.

The development of the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries is supported by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Code was developed in partnership with the Center for Social Media and the Washington College of Law at American University.

Post Script: 

The wonderful Peter Jaszi has been the driving force behind many of these Best practices projects. You can read all about it in Patricia Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi, Reclaiming Fair Use (University of Chicago Press, 2011).