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Library Launches Copyright First Responders Program

Training front-line responders to copyright questions.


July 8, 2014—This fall the Harvard Library will deploy the Copyright First Responders (CFRs) — a pilot program being developed as a resource for anyone at Harvard struggling with copyright issues.

The program was founded by Kyle K. Courtney, the copyright advisor at the Office for Scholarly Communication, who observed an increase in his caseload and had rising concerns about copyright’s rapidly changing law and the resulting implications for libraries and their users. In response, he is building a distributed network of individuals across Harvard’s libraries trained to either answer questions themselves or refer them up to experts.

The inaugural cohort of the CFRs - a dozen library staff members from diverse corners of the Library - started training with Kyle this spring under his “Copyright Immersion” program. The CFRs will be open for business in fall 2014, with a series of introductory presentations at each library featuring Kyle and the CFR representative for that particular library. The goal is to aid the library community by addressing copyright issues regularly faced by their colleagues and patrons.

In the weekly CFR meetings, Kyle couches thorny copyright issues in timely questions like, “Who owns a selfie?” Participants apply principles from case law and their assigned readings in their discussion, which usually lead to bigger questions about copyright and its effect on libraries, publishers, researchers and readers.

In a recent session addressing digital first sale, the importance of copyright on daily library operations was clear: “If a library has 1,000 e-books, it doesn’t really own them in the traditional sense of the word, which interferes with collections, which interferes with preservation, which interferes with being a library,” said Courtney.

Once the first CFR cohort is deployed, Kyle plans on launching a second cohort for training in late fall for more libraries, departments, and programs.