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In 2015, Fair Use Week Goes National

The Harvard Library, founder of last year’s Fair Use Week, is participating in the second annual nationwide awareness movement and celebration of the fair use statute.

Fair Use Week logo

February 23, 2015—What do The Grey Album, your last term paper, and Google have in common?

They all are made possible and protected by the fair use principle, which is being celebrated at libraries and universities nationwide beginning February 23.

Fair Use Week 2015 is designed to raise awareness of and foster better understanding of the legal doctrine allowing previously published, painted, filmed or played material to be used in the creation of new material, spanning everything from academic texts to musical mashups.

“The rights granted by the fair use statute—which aids education, news reporting, research and scholarship—give you the ability to stand on the shoulders of giants to create something new,” explained Kyle Courtney, copyright advisor at the Office for Scholarly Communication.

Courtney launched the nation’s first Fair Use Week last year. While a few universities participated, Harvard's was the only campus to offer a full week of activities. Its success was noticed, and Courtney worked with new partners to make this year even bigger than the last. With help and coordination from the Association of Research Libraries, the second annual Fair Use Week has expanded to include dozens of institutions, universities, colleges and libraries around the world.

“Fair use is critical and important to innovation, scholarship and research in the United States,” said Courtney. “It truly drives our economy.”

The fair use principle has seen more dramatic transformative change than ever in the last two decades due to technological developments. The ability of search engines to index, extract and display information from websites derives from fair use, as does the right to share digital content through MOOCs and other online learning courses. Digitization of texts under copyright may be protected under fair use due to their unique transformative uses—such as data mining or enhanced accessibility—as will be an infinite number of creative endeavors in the future.

Fair Use Week will celebrate success stories and debate examples through February 28 via platforms from workshops to Twitter forums. At Harvard, the Library’s Office for Scholarly Communication is hosting a fair use experts panel and an RTL Shares session, in addition to guest blog posts from national and international fair use experts; the Copyright First Responders will act as unofficial ambassadors, donning t-shirts to start conversations around campus.

Emily Bell, research librarian at Lamont and Widener Libraries and a Copyright First Responder, has noticed that many of the questions emerging from faculty and students are about fair use. “Fair use is misunderstood. We need to have a greater conversation about it among all our communities, including students, faculty and staff, so there is less confusion, and more consistency in our practices," she said. "My CFR role allows me to work toward this goal.”

Fair Use Week was appropriately born at Harvard last year in a campus-only pilot, but its Harvard roots run deep: the legal statute was actually born out of an 1841 lawsuit (Folsom v. Marsh) in which one Harvard historian sued another Harvard historian over quotes and abridgements in a biography of George Washington. The publishers (both Harvard alumni, one formerly the Harvard Librarian) took the case to court, where it was heard by Justice Joseph Story, who also happened to be a law professor at—you guessed it—Harvard. Today’s current four-factor statute wasn’t written until 1976, but Story’s core reasoning guided its formation, and it hasn’t changed much over almost two centuries.

And while “every day is Fair Use Day for Harvard Library,” Courtney joked, “Fair Use Week is about getting the community to understand ‘You already exercise these fair-use rights—you just may not realize it.’”

Follow @FairUseWeek and @KyleKCourtney on Twitter; see the full roster of Harvard Fair Use Week events here, read Fair Use Stories on Tumblr and visit ARL's official site.