Student Snippets A Window Into The Daily Life & Thoughts of SLIS Students

Learning about the Copyright Act

Jill Silverberg

Yesterday in my Photographic Archives course (LIS 471) taught by the wonderful Professor Martha Mahard, my class was was treated to a crash course in the Copyright Act and all of its wonderful quirks. For those not acquainted with the Copyright Act, it is something that many of us will encounter more than once in our line of work as librarians, archivists, and information professionals. To describe the Copyright Act is no simple task but I will do my best to define it in under 100 words.

The U.S. Copyright Act: a piece of federal legislation that provides Constitutional protection to the writings of authors. The term ‘writings’ is a loose term, one that encompasses architectural design, software, graphic arts, movies, and sound recordings. The owner of a copyright has the sole rights to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, and license works based on the copyrighted work. The rights of the copyright owner are subject to limitation by the ‘fair use’ doctrine. Fair use applies to criticism, comment, news, reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. These are not subjected to copyright infringement. 
To help the class get a better grasp of the concept, Professor Mahard presented us with an example featuring a figure that all of us were able to identify. Perhaps you might recognize him too.
Does he look familiar?
Inline image 1
This is Wall-E. In the Pixar film Wall-E, he travels from a post-apocalyptic earth into outer space and sets off on an adventure that will ultimately shape the fate of the remnants of the human race. So what does Wall-E have to do with the Copyright Act? Well, if you want to get very technical, and I mean very technical, he is a mobile and talking Copyright Act violation. How so, you might be wondering? 
1. WALL-E records audio from his favorite movie, Hello Dolly!, putting in onto his own digital recorder (bypassing the macrovision DRM on the tape). A COPYRIGHT CRIME UNDER C-61 

2. WALL-E archives the audio, he doesn’t merely time-shift it. He listens repeatedly! A COPYRIGHT CRIME UNDER C-61 

3. WALL-E shares his DRM-broken music with his friend, another robot named EVE. A COPYRIGHT CRIME UNDER C-61 
Let’s be clear here: the information above while ridiculous in nature, especially considering that the copyright on Hello Dolly! expired about 740 years prior to the events of the film (assuming that the copyright for the film expired 95 years after publication), showcases the extent of the Copyright Act. And while I sometimes roll my eyes at it, the Copyright Act is something that all of us should know to some extent. It might not always make sense and it might at times be frustrating, but within the world of archives and museums, knowing how the Copyright Act works could be the thing that saves you and your institution from a potential fiasco. 
Time to do some extra reading….