When Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released I was ten years old promptly decided I was going to help J.K. Rowling finish the rest of her series. I wrote up countless drafts of my own Harry Potter stories, never doubting the sincerity of my genius. I thought myself a prodigy, a writing savant that surely would be recognized by one of my all time favourite authors as her equal. After finishing a particularly splendid draft, I handed it over to one of my cousins to take a look at before I sent it off to publishers. “Publishers” to me at ten, was the printing press Christian Bale and his friends worked for in the 1992 hit The Newsies.
After reading through the twelve or so pages I had crafted, my cousin calmly explained to me that J.K. Rowling was probably not going to be ok with me publishing my own version of her Harry Potter world. He also added that I probably wouldn’t get published because the story wasn’t very good anyways and I had spelled sorcerer wrong multiple times.
This was my introduction to copyrighting. And spellcheck.
At ten, I had thought that anything I read was now mine because I was able to store it in my brain and recite it to my friends at recess. I though that because I could lay in bed at night and recreate The Little Mermaid in my head, it was therefore my personal property. Sigh. Life was simpler then.
When I was thirteen I became convinced that somehow James Patterson had stolen my idea for Maximum Ride. I began to think that there was no longer such a thing as an original idea, that Shelley and Wilde and Shakespeare had gotten to all the ideas first and we were all doomed to suffer through prequels and sequels and parodies from now until the end of time. Then Lady Gaga showed up and I started to feel a little less paranoid about the whole issue.
Copyright is a complicated issue, one, I admit, I don’t understand fully. Hirsh’s chapter “Copyright and Creative Commons” in her text Information Services Today coincidently coincided with a guest speaker I attended for my Management Class. Julia Churchille, head of the AV department at Oak Lawn Public Library, briefly outlined for our class copyright issues and how they affect public libraries.
She showed a highly amusing video called “Copyright: Forever Less One Day” that talks about copyright issues as they pertain to the entertainment industry, specifically Star Wars and Disney.
But what are copyright laws? What is so important about copyright issues and why are so many people talking about them in angry voices?
Originally, our copyright laws are drawn from the Constitution which states that Congress can grant the power to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”(300). Hirsh states that this law was intended as a “social good” hoping to “encourage creativity and expand the quantity of published works that would benefit society”(301). That all sounds good and fine and slightly of roses until you reach the issue of Public Domain. Then things get really complicated.
Hirsh writes that permission is not needed in regard to copywriting when the work is in the public domain. This typically happens after the work’s copyright protection expires. It expires, you ask? Why yes it does.
“The duration of a published work’s copyright protection will vary depending on the circumstances of its publication. For works created on or after January 1, 1978, copyright endures for the life of the author plus 70 years following the author’s death.”
This rule is how Disney was able to snatch up all those Grimm Fairy Tales and make them all sparkly and cozy and how the company is able to retain its hold on those stories.
Where do libraries fit into all this? Libraries are having issues accessing certain materials and resources because of these copyright laws. These materials largely included e-books and the ownership of these e-books. Luckily, in 2001 an organization called Creative Commons was developed in order to help make copyright laws more advantageous to libraries.
Creative Commons is a “nonprofit organization that promotes the sharing of creative works and knowledge” and offers “free suit of standardized licenses that allow copyright owners to keep their copyrights yet give the public permission to use their works under set conditions” (311). This sounds like everyone wins, right? Right. If you ignore the the major corporations and companies that perhaps have their fingers in lots of copyright pies…but we won’t get into that pastry issue today.
And while copyright issues are difficult to handle, compared to the United Kingdom, I hear we have it easy. This is an issue that is constantly being talked about and tweaked, and no doubt libraries will continue to be at the forefront of the argument.
Hirsh, Sandra. Information Services Today: An Introduction. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015. Print.
“Copyright: Forever Less One Day.” C.P.G. Grey, YouTube. 23. Aug. 2011.