the chilling effect of librarians

One of the interesting side effects of bad policy like the USA PATRIOT Act and counterintuitive copyright laws, just to name a few, is that people have a tendency to be self-policing in the absence of any real hard facts on how the laws are implemented, “fair use” laws in particular. Oftentimes people, in the absence of solid legal counsel, will be over-cautionary just to avoid being on the receiving end of a lawsuit. Librarians need to make sure that they are not being cowed by nebulous copyright boogeymen and instead advocating for fair use rights for their collections and for their patrons. That’s what access is all about. So says the MLA, the other MLA, AALL and many more.

Section 504(c)(2) of the Copyright Act provides special protection to nonprofit libraries, educational institutions and their employees. When we act in good faith, reasonably believing that our actions are fair use, in the unlikely event we are actually sued over a use, we will not have to pay statutory damages even if a court finds that we were wrong. This demonstrates Congressional acknowledgement of the importance of fair use and the importance of our using it!