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Kenneth Crews on WIPO study on library exceptions to copyright law

Here’s a quick interview with Kenneth Crews, who prepared the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Study on Copyright Limitations and Exceptions for Libraries and Archives for its Seventeenth Session in Geneva, November 3 to 7, 2008.

Minow:  What sparked your interest in studying library exceptions to copyright law around the world?

Crews: I was invited by the World Intellectual Property Organization to undertake this study.  I had the pleasure of sharing a program in the United Arab Emirates with an official from WIPO, and she put in the recommendation that I do the project.  I had long been interested in the issues.  They are central to much of my work for libraries and universities, and I have written about the U.S. library provision in some of my publications.  The chance to do a major worldwide study was an invitation I was quick to accept.

Minow: How do the United States exceptions for libraries compare to other countries?

Crews: The U.S. statute on library issues is Section 108 of the U.S. Copyright Act.  Like the statutes from most countries, it focuses on the terms and conditions under which a library may make copies of a work for a user’s private study, and copies for preservation or replacement of lost or damaged works in the library collections.  Those issues are the most common topics of the statutes from all parts of the world.  The U.S. law also includes a provision on copies for interlibrary loans, and not many countries have addressed that issue.

On the other hand, the U.S. law is distinctive in many ways.  On the issue of preservation and replacement, for example, the law allows up to three copies, and it explicitly permits digital reproductions.  Some countries explicitly permit digital technologies, other countries do not mention specific format, leaving the matter open to debate.  Yet other countries clearly limit library copying to reprographic copies that are not digital.  Interestingly, two other countries have modeled their statute on the U.S. language of Section 108: Liberia and South Africa.  However, both of those countries used the form of the statute as we enacted it in 1978.  The U.S. added the language about digital copying in 1998, but neither of the other countries adopted that change.

Minow:  Did you find any surprises when you were conducting your study?

Crews:  I think I was surprised at nearly every point in the study.  The most interesting finding has been the trends in statutory language.  The U.S. language influenced only two other countries.  By contrast, the United Kingdom has a relatively elaborate statute, and one can see the influence of that model in the shape of the laws in many former U.K. colonies, such as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and elsewhere.  In fact, the U.S., being also a former colony, vaguely follows the U.K. model.

I could see other trends.  For example, the European Union issued a directive in 2001 that mentioned library exceptions, and as a result, most EU countries have addressed the issues in a similar manner.  I could also see a pattern of countries in Africa that have adopted a simple and terse library statute that is flexible and generally free of the detail embodied in the U.S. or U.K. examples.  Finally, I found geographical groupings of countries that have no library copyright statute at all.  Clearly, countries seem to be learning from one another, often from their neighbors, when they make decisions about the exact shape of copyright law.

Minow: Thanks for talking with us today.

Kenneth Crews is Director of the Copyright Advisory Office, Columbia University.
Mary Minow is the content editor for the Stanford Copyright and Fair Use website.