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  May 8, 2000

Copyright Law on Shifting Sands
in Technological Era, Says Speaker

The world of copyright law is changing and challenging and most of us wish it would all go away, an international expert in the field told an audience of nearly 100 people at the Dodd Center's Konover Auditorium on Wednesday.

"A lot of fundamentals have changed and everything about copyright law is changing at a fast pace," said Kenneth Crews, an associate professor at Indiana University's School of Law and dean of the faculties for copyright management at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis.

Crews, who was on campus for a day-long seminar that included a morning lecture and an afternoon workshop, delved into sensitive issues, such as fair use, ownership and work-for-hire, often invoking humor to make a legal point.

Copyright law evolved in the era of print. This is a technologically-dr iven era of websites and e-mails, Crews said, and that has created a separate set of issues.

He said there are two worlds in discussing copyright law: the world of ownership or who owns the rights that were created; and another world comprising the right of use of other people's material.

He said that if a faculty member creates a website, for example, and puts out material on a University server, that does not mean the University owns the material. "If you do the original work and content, you own the copyright," he said.

In addition to the copyright, however, there are benefits to registering your work, he said, such as being able to recover any attorney fees or statutory damages in the event of a lawsuit. If you're the owner of the work, Crews said, and think you might want to sue for copyright infringement, go ahead and get it registered. If you're on the other end, he continued, and might be sued for infringement, check first to see if it's registered.

The arena of work-for-hire has become a controversial and dangerous issue, he said. The general rule is that the person who creates the work is the owner, but the work-for-hire doctrine could change that, he added.

According to the work-for-hire doctrine, "if you created the work as an employee or were acting within the scope of employment, the copyright is not yours," said Crews, "it belongs to the employer.

"But if I'm a whiz software consultant or an independent contractor and I'm paid to do a job and then clear out, I own the copyright, even if I was paid millions. The money is largely irrelevant."

He cited an example of the ironies in the copyright law involving work-for-hire.

"A faculty member at a community college in Colorado developed a veterinarian teaching course and published it outside the institution," Crews said. The court considered the material work-for-hire and decided it belonged to the college.

Yet, he said, it is becoming harder to place faculty members in a true work-for-hire environment, and there's no clarity on what a court would decide in any given case. The copyright law, according to Crews, is full of inconsistencies.

Crews said that current law gives legal protection to nearly all readings and other course materials that an instructor might place on electronic reserves. "If the instructor is not the copyright owner of the work, that material may be placed on reserve only if the copyright owner grants permission or the use is a 'fair use' under the law," said Crews.

Fair use, he said, is a legal term that allows the public limited use of copyrighted works without permission.

When it comes to copyright protection, Crews said Congress has been very generous in the length of time for which the protection lasts. For example, for works created during or after 1978, protection is for the life of the author plus 70 years.

In work-for-hire, the protection span is 95 years from publication and 120 years from creation. And works published before 1978 generally have protection for 95 years.

Attending Crews' lecture along with University faculty, staff, and a few students were a number of professional librarians from other universities and organizations.

Ron Epp, director of libraries at the University of Hartford, said he attended the seminar because the copyright issue is "volatile and rapidly changing." He said he was seeking answers to compliance issues.

"We're moving from paper to electronics and I'm mostly concerned with electronic course reserves," Epp said.

Austen Clark, a professor of philosophy at UConn, said he attended the lecture for insight about the distribution of professional articles over the web.

Chris Penniman, director of institutional technologies at Connecticut College in New London, said he wanted to make certain the college was abiding by copyright law in distributing media and resources as course material.

The lecture was jointly sponsored by the UConn Libraries and the Chancellor's Library Advisory Committee.

Claudia Chamberlain